Tag: Trump (page 2 of 3)

Bannon’s Incoherent Vision of Disruption

In 2013, Bannon is reported to have told Ron Radosh of the Daily Beast that he was a Leninist.  He is quoted as saying “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too.  I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”   Yet this is such an odd thing to tell someone, particularly a journalist, when one’s very wealth, political power and caché depend on the very institution that he wants to destroy.  Lenin, after all, wanted to bring down capitalism and the bourgeoisie to usher in the proletariat as leaders of a communist government and society.   Lenin strongly believed in Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and with it the belief that the workers of the world, and not the owners of capital, must have the power.  Only when all workers—men and women alike—are seen as equal and free will true freedom and democracy reign.  Here is the problem, as I see it, with Bannon: he isn’t a Leninist, a Marxist, or a socialist.   He is an incoherent miscellany of ideas, none of which he understands fully and all of which are dangerous when combined in a haphazard manner.

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A Drinking Person’s Guide to the Resistance

A guest post by Layna Mosley,* Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

(*with contributions from Jeff Colgan, Beth Copelovitch, Mark Copelovitch, Artie G, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Roger Halchin, Andrew Herring , Steph Jeffries, Julia Lynch, Jon Pevehouse, Milada Vachudova, Erik Voeten and Christopher Zorn)

 

President Trump’s proposed economic policies may be bad news for some businesses, like US firms with international supply chains, but if my behavior is any indication of broader trends, Trump has generated a boom for the beverage industry. While I’ve so far stuck to whatever happens to be on hand at home – IPA, stout, rosé, lighter fluid – it promises to be a long four years (hopefully, the 21st Amendment will endure, even if the rest of the Constitution does not).  It’s time to diversify one’s drink choices.

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Mind the Power Gap

I have new online piece, co-authored with Dani Nedal, at Foreign Affairs:

President Donald Trump believes that America makes terrible deals—from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Why, according to Trump, do other countries take such advantage of the United States? Because our leaders and officials are stupid and incompetent and are terrible negotiators.  “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have people that are stupid,” said Trump when he announced his decision to run for president. On immigration, he was similarly blunt: “the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning.” And during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, he claimed that “we are making a terrible deal” because “we have the wrong people negotiating for us.” He added that “the Persians are great negotiators” and that “they are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.”

If the Trump Doctrine is to put “America First” by focusing on bilateral bargains—understood in terms of short-term winners and losers—then its corollary is the “Good Negotiator Policy.” In the president’s world, bad people make bad deals.  The best, smartest people—most notably, Trump himself—always get the best bargains. He is right that personal attributes and interpersonal dynamics can make an important difference in international negotiations. But Trump’s focus on individual skill overlooks the most important factor that shapes political agreements in general and international ones in particular: the relative leverage of the parties involved.

The problem is that when the Washington locked in most of its bargains and arrangements, America was much more powerful, in relative terms, than it is now.

It takes a rather naïve negotiator to attempt to overhaul relatively favorable deals from a position of comparative weakness. The United States will not get better bargains than it achieved when it controlled more than twice as much of global power as it currently holds. If Trump abandons long-standing practices of American-led liberal order for bilateral, transactional, and zero-sum relations, other states have little reason to prefer dealing with Washington to China, Russia, or any other country.

When it comes to stiffing contractors, he’s shown a very good understanding of how power asymmetries shape bargaining outcomes. But, overall, Trump’s rhetoric is in keeping with a man who was born on third base and thinks staying there is a testament to his mad business skillz.

Anyway, go read the whole thing, if you’re so inclined. You may need to register to get access.

(cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money)

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Tempo, Protest, and Emergency Ethnography in the Trump Moment

This is a guest post by Dr. Sherrill Stroschein, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Politics, Department of Political Science, University College London

We have all been driven to understand what is going on over the past few days. Some of these discussions would be improved with lesser-used tools to think more systematically about events. There are three approaches that can help to do this that have had less exposure than they should.

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Party Trumped Policy in 2016

This is a guest post by Christopher Gelpi and Elias Assaf.  Christopher Gelpi is Chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and Professor of Political Science and Elias Assaf is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at The Ohio State University, both at The Ohio State University

President Donald Trump adopted a variety of controversial and unorthodox foreign policy stances during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Since taking office, Mr. Trump has moved quickly to begin implementing many of these policies – including a border wall with Mexico, a ban on immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries, and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  While Mr. Trump was very clear about his intentions during the campaign, public reaction to his implementation of these policies has nonetheless been quite negative.  Protests among left-leaning progressives in response to the anti-Muslim travel restriction are not surprising, but even prominent Republican leaders have been critical of Trump’s foreign policy actions since taking office. Moreover, according to Gallup’s tracking poll, President Trump’s disapproval rating rose sharply during his first week in office.  Within eight days of taking office, a majority of the public already disapproved of the job he was doing as President.

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Trump’s Treatment of the Press: A Harbinger of Bad Things to Come

Over the weekend, the Trump Administration had some interesting discussions with and about the press.  First, talking at CIA headquarters on Saturday, President Trump remarked that he is in a “war” with reporters, who are the “most dishonest human beings on Earth.”  Later that same day, his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, accused the media of “shameful and wrong” reporting on the unbigly audience sizes at the inauguration.  And, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Trump Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway not only spoke of “alternative facts” about the inauguration’s audience size but also included a pretty blatant threat to journalist Check Todd:

 

“KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, I mean, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”

 

As an American, I want to give our President the benefit of the doubt.  However, this treatment of the press is deplorable and worrisome.  And, sadly, it doesn’t appear to be new to Trump and the Trump campaign.

Image result for rope tree journalist shirt

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Trump’s Russian Cyber-Hack Controversy: New era of post-Civil-Military Relations?

The following is a guest post by Jahara W. Matisek.  Jahara “FRANKY” Matisek is a Major in the U.S. Air Force, with plenty of combat experience flying the C-17 and an instructor pilot tour in the T-6. He is an AFIT Ph.D. Student in Political Science at Northwestern University, a recent Summer Seminar participant in the Clements Center for National Security, and Coordinator for the War & Society Working Group at the Buffett Institute. Upon completion of his doctoral studies, Major Matisek will be Assistant Professor in the Military & Strategic Studies department at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The opinions espoused in the essay do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or U.S. government.

How bad would the Russian cyber-hack have to be in your mind to make you reconsider Trump being allowed to become President on the 20th of January?

I posed this provocative question to 28 individuals[1] that are currently serving in the U.S. military,[2] or had served at some point.[3]

Depending on where you fall along the political spectrum and level of engagement, this question came off as a genuine question to some, and to others, it was perceived as a loaded/slanted question. Thing is, I intentionally asked this, not because I wanted a direct answer to the question, but because I wanted to understand the current sociological state of civil-military relations (CMR) relative to this incredibly divisive political election season.  Understanding these answers can provide greater clarity to Peter Feaver’s civil-military problematique, where “the very institution created to protect the polity is given sufficient power to become a threat to the polity.”  Indeed, it is right to openly wonder military attitudes concerning civilian control of the military under the pretext of political leadership that might be perceived as illegitimate.

Nonetheless, I was greatly surprised with the incredibly high percentage of responses from such an opening question directed at military personnel – given the contentious election and continued controversy. Even as a mid-level military officer, I was able to start with this type of question, and many opened up immediately – regardless of rank and position – telling me much more than I anticipated, to include about half of the respondents – on their own accord – admitting who they voted for. Continue reading

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The Many Faces of Trump Foreign Policy

From NBC. Admit it, you'd rather look at Nick Offerman than Donald Trump. Which is good. Because usage rights.

From NBC. Admit it, you’d rather look at Nick Offerman than Donald Trump. Which is good. Because usage rights.

It won’t be too long before we start to get a better understanding of what foreign policy in a Trump Administration will actually look like. It’s useful to keep in mind that current rhetoric is no guarantee of future grand strategy. Remember when we all worried that the Bush Administration was going to be too isolationist? Good times.

But let’s assume, for a moment, that the past is prologue. Or the prologue is the main part of the book. Or whatever.

This raises an interesting puzzle: what the $@!#* • #!*$$%*(!! is he doing? Seriously. What the !#(&–^&!# stupid #$#(*$!! is going on?

As I noted in another post, on what godforsaken inhospitable bright orange gas giant is it a good idea to attack your most successful alliance at the same exact time that you’re picking fights with your nearest peer-competitor—that is, China? And it isn’t like the incoming administration has been sending unambiguous signals to key Asian allies while it’s been prodding China. Oh yeah, and also North Korea’s in the mix.

As I was thinking about this—duly motivated by a discussion among fellow international-relations specialists on Facebook—I took to the Twitters to work out some alternative theories. Here they are:

The Chess Master.” Trump is a strategic genius. He recognizes that the US cannot afford to defend Europe while threatening war with China. He needs to take Russia out of the picture. So that means a “grand bargain” that will concede to Russia its privileged sphere of influence, as well as forward some of its other strategic priorities in western Eurasia. Not only does this free up the United States to take on Beijing, but it might even entice Russia to remain neutral—or support the US. It’s like the Austrian Diplomatic Revolution. Which turned out terrific for Vienna.

“The Transactionalist.” This is the conventional wisdom on Trump. He thinks in terms of short-term zero-sum bargains, mercantilist economics, and is deeply insecure about being taken advantage of. In his mind, NATO helps trade competitors. It’s basically a trade subsidy for Germany. But he can make big, splashy deals with countries like Russia. Maybe he can squeeze better deals from the NATO allies as well. There is a “T” in NATO, after all. It doesn’t have to stand for “Treaty.”

“Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt.” Trump speaks loudly and carries… a small stick… in his freakishly small hands. He’s all bluster. US foreign policy will largely carry on as normal, under the watchful eye of Defense, State, and second-tier national-security staff. In fact, Trump’s barking might just get a few NATO countries to make token increases in their defense spending, or offer more subsidies for American troops.

“The Buffoon.” This is kind of like Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt, but he actually means it; cooler heads aren’t going to prevail. It really is that bad. In other words, Trump is an impulsive narcissist and a walking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Don’t worry too much about strategic logic. There really isn’t any. But some nice commentators—at Fox News, NewsMax, whatever new #MAGA journals appear, or the National Enquirer—will be happy to tell us that it’s genius. In a hundred years, Chinese revisionist historians will argue that there actually was a calculated grand strategy. They will be wrong.

“The Leninist.” The Trump ‘brain trust’—some combination of Bannon and Flynn—just want to burn it all down. This is something Cheryl Rofer (blog, Twitter) emphasizes. As reported at The Daily Beast:

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

In this scenario, it’s all about shredding globalism and liberal order. And that means watching NATO and the EU burn. Or, at least, gumming them up. Here, the eerie overlap with Russian interests is all a matter of convenience. They hate the liberal order, because it benefits the US and its allies. The Trumpistas hate the liberal order too, because reasons.

“The Transnational Rightist.” The Leninist is to revolutionary Marxism as The Transnational Rightist is to parliamentary socialism. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with NATO and the EU that a Europe dominated by a mix of right-wing populist and post-fascist parties won’t cure. The enemy is the broad European center—the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and so on. What Trump wants is the rise of political co-confessionals, such as the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, and the Freedom Party in Austria. Hurting the establishment is good, but burning everything down would be a bit too much. Maybe just the EU. NATO can stay. Is Russia an ally of convenience or a fellow traveller? For now, it doesn’t really matter.

“The Useful Idiot.” Is Trump compromised by Kompromat? Is his overleveraged financial spider web dependent upon, intertwined with, or simply looking for the best deals in Russia? Does Trump just having a thing for strong, buff autocrats? Who knows? It’s all bad.

“Tales of the Incompetent Transition.” Transitions often make for policy instability and amateur-hour mistakes. I arrived at the Pentagon in 2009. The Obama Administration had just rolled out its new plans for European ballistic missile defenses. They were much better than the old plans. They also involved ending the “Third Site” in Poland. That the Bush Administration had so carefully negotiated. Apparently, no one gave  Warsaw a ‘heads up’. Things were bumpy for a bit.

Point is, even well-run transitions full of experienced people can go bad. And this is not one of those transitions. Eventually, there will be national-security principals, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries, and the rest of the crew. People will be briefed. Many will have a clue. Things will settle down.

…. Of course, it could be any combination of these. And perhaps I’ve missed some possibilities. Thoughts?

[cross-posted at the Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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Trump and IR Theory: Did We Forget Great Men?

I was reminded on twitter that international relations professors have trained students for generations to focus on the third and second levels of analysis and dismiss the first–that individuals and their characteristics matter much less than the constraining impact of institutions and the incentives provided by the international system.

So, should we just apologize as Trump sells out the postWWII order and ends American hegemony by whim or fiat?  No, we need to drink heavily.  Seriously, there are a few real responses to this question of agency and structure.

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Never Too Early for a Crisis in Civil-Military Relations

To be clear, the latest news is “intra-civilian” but is likely to cross over given the stakes.

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ISA Conferences in Trump’s America

In conversations with friends, I quickly realized that the International Studies Association faces some significant problems ahead.  The advent of the Trump administration is likely to lead to two kinds of complications:

  • it may be hard for foreign scholars to get visas to attend the conference
  • that scholars may want to boycott conferences that take place in the US if Trump follows through on a variety of things he promised/threatened/tweeted during the campaign.

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WPTPN: Trump and The End of Taken-For-Grantedness: When the Exception Becomes the Rule

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Antje Wiener, Professor of Political Science and Global Governance at the University of Hamburg, visiting fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at Cambridge University (September – December 2016), and 2015-2017 holder of the “Opus Magnum Fellowship” funded by the Volkswagon Foundation. She is founding editor of the Cambridge University Press journal Global Constitutionalism: Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law and her book Contestation and Constitution in Global Governance is scheduled for publication by Cambridge in 2018. An earlier version of this paper was presented at Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge Nov 25, 2016: https://www.hughes.cam.ac.uk/news-events/.

When struggling to come to terms with the result on the morning after the US 2016 elections, some tried to make sense of what they saw by describing the results as a “Black Swan Event”. On Jan 28 2016 Politico published an article titled “Trump the Black Swan Candidate” which noted that “(i)mmune to the standard laws of politics, Trump has continued to rise in the polls, replacing the manageable disorder of a presidential politics with his chaos.” On Nov 12 2016 Politico dubbed Trump “The Black Swan President”. Accordingly Trump “became the closest thing to a black swan event we’ve ever seen in American politics: Statistically unlikely, rationalized only in hindsight—and carrying an impact that could be off the known charts.”

Typically, such an event indicates something out of the ordinary, quite sensational, which we try to explain with reference to the exception of the rule. The reference to a black swan event conjures the eventual return to normalcy following disruption. Does this mean that despite the Trump election, all else remains ‘normal’? Can – and should – we therefore move on and wait for the exceptional event to pass and politics to return back to ‘normal’?

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The Russians Are Coming (for your language too)

Gone are the good old days when I had to explain what the word ‘yarki’ means to my friends and colleagues (for the record, ‘colorful’, not ‘brilliant’). Now I will have to clarify the complexities of planting child pornography into the computers of oppositional leaders thanks to the re-emergence of ‘kompromat’.

Why did kompromat, arguably a KGB-developed practice of mining compromising material on politicians and blackmailing them with it, surface again in the media? As Fabian Burkhardt noticed, the word first appeared in the English language with the information wars of the 90s. Moreover, the term ‘kompromat’ is inextricably linked in Russia with the former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov – or, rather, with ‘a man who looked like the prosecutor general’…

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WPTPN: The Legitimacy of American Hegemony in the Age of Trump

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Daniel Braaten, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Lutheran University.  His main research interests are in the areas of global governance, human rights, and U.S. foreign policy.  His research has been published in the Review of International Studies, Journal of Peace Research, Journal of Human Rights, and Human Rights Review.

What effect will a Donald Trump presidency have on American hegemonic legitimacy? My purpose here is not to wade into debates about whether U.S. hegemony is benign, here to stay, already gone, or more like an empire. My use of the term hegemony is only to acknowledge the role the U.S. has taken to build, maintain, and benefit from the post-World War II global order and how Trump’s foreign policy may impact America’s role in maintaining this system going forward. Already commentators are arguing that a Trump Presidency (coupled with the Brexit vote and a global surge in nationalism) spells the end of this system. So how might a Trump presidency undermine the legitimacy that underlies America’s hegemonic position and the post-World War II system of international institutions, embedded liberalism, and democracy?

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Taking Democracy for Granted

[This is a guest post by Valerie J. Bunce, the Aaron Binenkorb Chair of International Studies at Cornell University, and Mark R. Beissinger, the Henry W. Putnam Professor of Politics at Princeton University. After Aida Hozic shared the essay with me, I asked Valerie and Mark if I could post it at the Duck. They kindly agreed. I think it is one of the clearest—and most succinct—statements of why we should be worried and vigilant about the fate of US institutions.]

How might American democracy end? The United States would not be the first long-lasting government to collapse. Whether they supported communism or not, those who lived under it assumed, in Alexei Yurchak’s words, that communism was forever—until it was no more.   Developments in the United States bear an uncomfortable resemblance to those that fore-shadowed the decline of democracy elsewhere in the world (Poland, Hungary, and Russia, and earlier, Latin America in the 1960s and interwar Europe).

There are three pieces to the puzzle of why and how democracies fail. The first involves public opinion. In Russia, for example, growing public worries about crime and social disorder, economic collapse, and national security paved the way for the rise of a leader who promised political order, economic growth, and strong government—in short, making Russia great again. In many instances of democratic collapse, there was a decline in tolerance, as publics grew more polarized, more locked into their own views and into networks of like-minded people, and more distrustful of and angry at each other and the government. There was a thirst for new styles in politics, flamboyant rhetoric, and a willingness to gamble. Citizens voted for change; they did not vote to end democracy.

The second piece is dysfunctional political institutions. Just as the rise of Victor Orbán in Hungary was preceded by the collapse of the party system, so too was the rise of Hitler and Mussolini foreshadowed by prolonged parliamentary paralysis. In failing democracies, public trust in political institutions declines, and government can no longer fulfill the basic tasks expected of it. In the American case, there is ample evidence of such trends—from the Republican obstruction and gridlock in Congress to repeated attempts to shut the government down. Little wonder that trust in Congress has plummeted to the mid-20 percent level since 2010.  Mistrust of government is contagious, poisoning democratic processes. Echoing Trump’s rants about a “rigged system,” nearly a half of all registered voters believe that voter fraud occurs somewhat or very often in the United States, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

The final piece of the puzzle is the role of politicians in terminating democracy. As Nancy Bermeo reminds us, it is political leaders that end democracy, not angry publics or dysfunctional institutions. But how leaders have taken down democracy has changed over time. During the interwar years and the Cold War, democracy tended to end through military coups or declarations of national emergency. By contrast, contemporary would-be autocrats have played a more subtle game, undermining democracy from within. Claiming to have the support of the people (and therefore the right to use all means necessary to defend the nation), they use legislation, appointment powers, and informal interventions to whittle away at checks-and-balances, the rule of law, and civil liberties.

The elections that bring these dangerous leaders to power typically feature an electorate composed of large numbers of alienated, floating voters. All of the candidates have unusually high unfavorability ratings (which depresses voter turnout, skewing the representativeness of the electorate), and the choice confronting voters boils down to supporting experienced but compromised establishment politicians or risky outsiders. Outsider-politicians exploit public disgust with politics, attack their opponents in personal rather than policy terms, make grandiose promises, and talk of a return to the good old days by restoring the culture, society, and status of the past.

Most important is their claim to defend the nation. This is a perfect issue for ambitious amateur politicians because it plays so well to public fears about national security, personal security, and cultural diversity. Being for the nation, like being for economic growth and against crime and polio, is a valence issue—there is only one acceptable position. The costs of nationalist tropes for democracy are many. They give candidates a license to avoid talking about policy. They silence the opposition, since it cannot possibly come out against the nation. They sow divisions among the public. But perhaps their greatest danger is that they give rise to the demand for strong leadership—leaders who will do anything to defend the nation from its enemies.

To those who view American politics as exceptional, Trump is an anomaly that is difficult to explain. To us, his politics are disconcertingly familiar.

— Valerie J. Bunce and Mark R. Beissinger

 

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In Domestic and Foreign Affairs, ‘It’s the Institutions, Stupid’

american-839775_1920[tl;dr: This is a ~3.5k word essay on why the biggest threat posed by a Trump Presidency is to liberal-republican institutions at home and abroad. It suggests placing specific policy debates  on the back burner in favor of forming and maintaining a broad political coalition—one aimed at preserving those two aspects of American liberal order.  In brief, you can always change tax rates, but once democratic institutions and America’s web of international partnerships are gone, they will be monumentally difficult to put back together. Focusing on this kind of action is a matter of prudence; one hopes that it proves unnecessary. The essay does not discuss the fate of democracy in other countries, although that too remains a major concern. The piece collects and synthesizes arguments that I have made in other social media, most notably Twitter.]

 

A number of people are now sharing stories about Trump and his circle with the caption “This is not normal.” The pieces range widely in subject matter. They range from  apparent purges of insufficiently loyal members of Trump’s transition team to Kansas Secretary of State—and transition-team member—Kris Kobach’s discussion of “drafting a proposal for his consideration to reinstate a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.”

They are right: none of this is normal.

My wager in this post is that Trump’s election may amount to an inflection point in the institutional fabric of our political system. And by this, I do not simply mean our domestic republican institutions. I also mean the broadly liberal-republican international order constructed after World War II.  Indeed, these two sets of institutions are profoundly bootstrapped to one another. This dual threat amounts to the greatest challenge to the American experiment since the early years of the Cold War.

The nature of this challenge requires us to set aside normal politics. It requires a broad coalition—of liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and moderates—to come together with the purpose of monitoring and protecting the health of those institutions. Such a coalition will fail if it becomes divided by policy differences. At this moment, many of the standard debates—about taxes, the level of economic regulation, and size of the defense budget, and so forth—are of secondary importance. Indeed, their elevation to existential concerns helped bring us to this point.

I

As I’ve argued on Twitter, most Americans—and academics—operate with the assumption that political institutions are sticky. Once constructed, they prove difficult to radically transform—in the absence of huge shocks such as revolutions, wars, and economic collapse. And, in many respects, that’s a reasonable assumption. Institutions structure political competition and cooperation, create vested interests, and otherwise generate their own mechanisms of perpetuation.

In the American system, we have multiple “veto points” spread across our Courts, Congress, and the Presidency. Our federal system devolves a fair amount of authority to the states, making top-down change harder than, say, in France. Indeed, France is on its Fifth Republic, but the United States has enjoyed the same fundamental law—its constitution—since 1789. On top of that, we have a complex, professional bureaucracy that requires immense knowledge and willpower to set in a radically different trajectory.

All of these factors may rightly provide reason to discount my alarmism (and I am being deliberately alarmist). But this is not a good year to bet on the stability of liberal-democratic institutions. The Philippines, with its wave of extra-judicial killings and the deaths of elected officials, is seeing rapid democratic backsliding. Turkey looks in danger of quickly moving through the hybrid-regime phase into outright autocracy.

Americans generally look at democratic backsliding as something that happens “to other people.” As the well-known phrase itself calls into question, we believe that “it can’t happen here.”

But underneath the trappings of continuity—a longstanding continuous currency, the US Constitution, and the like—the United States has indeed undergone radical change. In practical terms, American institutions look almost nothing like they did prior to the Civil War.

washington_constitutional_convention_1787

Consider this way of thinking about the first 190 years of American political development: We first tried a confederation. We quickly gave up on that and built a semi-centralized federation. That federation collapsed into civil war. The victors established a more centralized federation. We further struggled over the terms of central authority through the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II. The post-war period saw the combination of a more national-state apparatus combined with a regional race-based hybrid regime. The Federal Government, pushed by a great social movement, ended many of the institutional props of those regional apartheid systems.

Moreover, during the long nineteenth century, the United States was a continental empire. It established settler colonies and displaced indigenous inhabitants. After the Spanish-American War, the US explicitly established an overseas empire. Vestiges of those empires still remain, even if many of the territories of the first became part of the American federation.greateramericamap

We could discuss many more examples. In fact, the history of ethnic, religious, and racial inclusion and exclusion itself supplies a great deal more empirical material. But all of this evidence would all point in the same direction: beneath the superficial stability of the American system—beneath its apparent equilibrium—lies great political instability and ongoing transformation.

II

The same is true of the post-war liberal international order, including the World Bank, the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To these, and other, institutions we might add more recent ones, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Union (EU), and the EU’s predecessor agreements and institutions.  Beyond these ‘named’ organizations lies a host of relationships, networks, partnerships, and alliances. In this diplomatic and military web, the US is at least primus inter pares. Continue reading

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Applying the Emerging Trump Doctrine to Syria

syrian_refugee_camp_on_theturkish_border

By and large, world leaders have gone from being taken aback about Donald Trump’s unexpected victory to being outright alarmed. Exceptions to this rule are Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, both of whom expect Trump to be far better to deal with than Secretary Clinton. Yet, while it still is not remotely clear what a Trump Doctrine will strategically comprise, his coming moves in Syria do not bode well.

Russia and the Syrian regime look to be the chief beneficiaries of the coming shifts in U.S. policy toward the 5-year old conflict that has weaponized half the country as refugees, killed half a million people, and continues to mete out suffering en masse in Aleppo and elsewhere.

Trump has said—erroneously—that Aleppo has already fallen, and he has described the opposition forces “as worse than Assad.” Trump will immediately remove support for the moderate opposition forces fighting Syrian/Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah forces, both overt and covert. To boot, the UN’s efforts to broker peace will be thoroughly undermined. At one point early on in the campaign Trump spoke favorably of a safe/no fly zone, but that is not on the cards at this point. He will avoid acting contrary to Russian interests.

The upshot of the coming Trump Administration’s moves in this space will be to strengthen the Russian hand, and give it a free one in and around Syria. As such, Putin is unlikely to test Trump in the manner some have speculated. Effectively he has no need to see how far down the road of harming U.S. national security interests he can go, when his partner in this potentially dangerous diplomatic dalliance is doing the work for him. Continue reading

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Trump and the Fall of Númenor—a comment from a sad political scientist

sauraonThis is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, an Associate Professor of Political Science at International Affairs at George Washington University. He is the author of Constructive Illusions (Cornell, 2014) .He studies sociological approaches to cooperation and conflict, and international ethics.

Over the last few days, protestors have taken to the streets to combat what they believe is an evil power that will soon occupy the White House. The problem of evil has featured in rhetoric about this election, in fact, for months, as featured in the Washington Post commentary on the election. The tropes “politics is evil,” “Hillary is evil,” and “Trump is evil” have a new significance when people are confused and disoriented by Trump’s surprising win.

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Why don’t you like me?

We’re not so different, you and I. We both dislike Hillary. It doesn’t really matter that she was among key players in the Russian reset policy back in 2009, we really don’t trust her – just like you! We also like a strong leader. Our leader is much better at doing business than yours though.

You have a misogynist pig for a presidential candidate? We’ll take that and raise you a foreign minister who jokes about female journalists on their knees. Not to mention a former children’s ombudsman who thinks that after 27 women shrivel up, and that it’s ok for a teenager to be married off as a second wife to a man 30 years her senior. We might be a bit behind on anti-abortion legislation, but we’re working on it.

What about the whole homophobic thing? One of your running mates, as well as numerous senators and governors believe in gay-conversion therapy, adopt anti-gay legislation, and force people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex specified on their birth certificate. And you’re criticizing me for some ‘harmless’ gay propaganda law? As Russian people say in this kind of situation, and who are you to tell me not to pick my nose (it’s a real expression, unlike the one about a hibernating bear)?

So we broke into the DNC, big deal. For starters, it could have been that 400-pound guy in his bedroom. Or the Chinese. But what were we supposed to do when you were giving State Department’s cookies left and right, trying to start a revolution in 2011-2012? It’s not like people would go protesting electoral fraud on their own.  Continue reading

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Trump, Brexit, and nationalist authority

In this, the first of a sequence of posts addressing Brexit in one way or another, I want to take a look at the shifting systems of authority in the current political climate and comment on how they might impact international relations into the future.

At the time of the Brexit vote, commentators and news reports drew parallels between the British decision to the leave the EU and the tumult of the US elections, particularly the rise of Donald Trump. Many pointed to the resurgence of nationalism, but here I want to argue that while the concept of nationalism as a practice of identity certainly sheds light on both Brexit and the rise of Trump, it also obscures some importance differences. In particular, part of nationalism is an aspect of governance, and in particular an embodied system of authority. In the case of Brexit, authority remained at the institutional level but shifted in aggregation, from the supernational to the national level. Continue reading

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