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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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Understanding Israel

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 election.

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.

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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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Clarifying Classic Confusions for IR students

An amazing series of tweets must be re-posted here so that IR profs everywhere can use them for syllabi and for the first day of class.  A grateful nation owes Herb Carmen, former naval aviator, a tremendous debt.
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Editors, we need to talk about robustness checks

It’s happened to all of us (or least those of us who do quantitative work). You get back a manuscript from a journal and it’s an R&R. Your excitement quickly fades when you start reading the comments. One reviewer gives a grocery list of additional tests they’d like to see: alternate control variables, different estimators, excluded observations. Another complains about the long list of robustness checks already in the manuscript, as it obscures the important findings. Sometimes both of these reviewers are the same person.

And it gets even more complicated if the article ends up rejected and you send it to another journal. Now that list of robustness checks–some of which were of questionable value–expands under a new set of reviewers’ comments. And those reviewers irritated by voluminous appendices get even more annoyed by all the tests included with little clear justification (“another reviewer told me to add this” not being an acceptable footnote).

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Winners of the 2019 Duckies!

This is a guest post from William Kindred Winecoff, Incoming Chair

and Brent E. Sasley, Outgoing Chair of the Online Media Caucus

The Online Media Caucus’s 2019 Duckies have come and gone. The reception celebrating Online Achievement in International Studies, generously sponsored by SAGE Publishing, included three fascinating Ignite speakers and the presentation of five awards to very deserving scholars.

Ignite speakers:

Meg Guliford, PhD candidate at Tufts University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, spoke about “Operation Hedge of Protection,” which contains her strategies for dealing with trolls on Twitter.

Naazneen Barma, Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and Co-Director of Bridging the Gap, presented some ideas for thinking about best practices in online activity.

Paul Poast, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago, explained how and why he created a Twyllabus for his Introduction to IR course.

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Climate Change as Anarchy: The Need for A New Structural Theory of IR

I arrived in Toronto for ISA on Thursday and went straight to the annual luncheon hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, which featured some of my favorite policy oriented scholars, Kori Schake, Dan Drezner, Charles Kupchan, and Barry Posen. It was a lively discussion about the rise of illiberal nationalism and what it means for world order.

Someone from the audience asked about climate change, and the topic got lost in the shuffle. The last questioner, an older guy in a brilliant purple shirt, asked again about climate change and whether the international community was up to the challenge. Drezner said he wasn’t all that optimistic, though the U.S. military is a bright spot given the impacts on bases and its relatively consistent concern. And then it was over.

As we got up to leave and say hello to familiar faces, I thought that the field has to have more to say about the importance of climate change. In a 2017 TRIPS survey, IR scholars ranked climate change as the most important threat foreign policy issue facing the United States over the next 10 years, and yet, we have not had a reckoning for how climate will change both the reality of international relations and the study of it.

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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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Does IR really have a “culture problem?”

Is it a mistake to push back on a senior scholar (whose work you admire) right before ISA? Maybe. Is it overkill to post twice in one week? Probably (sorry Duck superiors). But I had to say something about this Christian Reus-Smit piece in Foreign Policy–based on his new bookclaiming IR doesn’t understand culture. It’s an example of the sort of well-meaning critique that fails to really engage with work being done in IR, which can divide and undermine scholars who should be working together.

Reus-Smit argues IR sees culture in an outdated manner, approaching cultures “as tightly integrated, neatly bounded, and clearly differentiated” entities that are “causally powerful.” He argues this misrepresents reality, ignores advances in other fields, and is a common failing across realist, rationalist and constructivist theories.

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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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The slow death of realism in IR

It seems like good times have come around again for realists. After decades in the theoretical and empirical doldrums (getting end of Cold War wrong, opposition to war in Iraq, terrorism and COIN) realism is back. The most recent U.S. National Defense Strategy renews a focus on great power competition, specifically with China and Russia. The Pentagon has offloaded MRAPs and is stocking up on boost phase interceptors, hypersonics, and other weapons platforms not all that useful against insurgents but great for peer competitors. Oh, happy days for the balance of power!

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Is religious freedom just for the faithful?

Yesterday, Michelle Kosinki of CNN reported via Twitter that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was holding a special briefing for “faith-based media” only. She later relayed that the State Department was refusing to release the list of invited media or a transcript of the event. And we’ve now learned that the topic of the briefing was the state of religious freedom around the world. This creates a dangerous precedent and raises some serious issues about the manner in which conservatives define religious freedom. It also highlights why progressives need to engage with, rather than write off, religious freedom.

As anyone who’s read my posts here, on Medium or on Huffington Post back in the day, knows, international religious freedom (IRF) is an issue I follow closely. I ran the Pew Research Center’s work on religious freedom, and also wrote reports on this topic for Georgetown’s Berkley Center and the Center for American Progress. Unlike many who work on this issue, I come at it from a liberal perspective. I’ve tried to convince fellow liberals that this cause can be nonpartisan while also nudging international religious freedom advocates to live up to their claims of an ecumenical and bipartisan movement.

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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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Pakistan’s Proxies: Rising Costs, Uncertain Benefits

This is a guest post from Adnan Naseemullah from is Senior Lecturer in International Relations, King’s College London, and the author of Development after Statism (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Indian 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 these proxies.

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Flying Blind in Crisis Time: The US Strategic and Human Foreign Policy Deficit

This week has seen a number of key events and crises in global politics that have made crystal clear once again the careening mess that is US foreign policy under the current administration. The Trump administration has no real overarching strategy—the argument that allies in Europe and elsewhere should bear more of the costs of their defense was not articulated as part of any coherent broader vision—and gutting of the diplomatic corps has left the US devoid of expertise and key actors to confront crises when they arise.

First, there were two big stories around nuclear powers this week. The biggest being India and Pakistan’s clashes, which came on the heels of a suicide bombing attack on Indian troops in Kashmir by a local man that was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a scenario that Toby Dalton and George Perkovich worried about and predicted, an air raid by India into Pakistan resulted in bombs dropped on an open field, with two Indian planes apparently shot down, and one airman captured. Pakistan responded with a raid of its own across the Line of Control in Kashmir, sparking fears of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states. The Indian raid marked the first known aerial attack by one nuclear power on the territory of another.

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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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