Tag: international affairs

Ferguson and American Foreign Policy

I see a connection between what is happening in Ferguson, the now roiling suburb of St. Louis, and American security policy. An odd connection to make at first glance, but stay with me. In the context of the important questions of institutionalized violence and race relations, it can be easy to overlook the ways in which how the US thinks about security policy are shaping the events on the ground. Let us start first with the most concrete or optical of influences, the equipment the police are using. As dozens of news outlets have reported, it is no coincidence that the police in Ferguson look like they might be on the ground in a war zone—because a substantial amount of their equipment has come from the military.


From https://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-14/ferguson-shooting-how-military-gear-ended-up-with-local-police

From https://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-14/ferguson-shooting-how-military-gear-ended-up-with-local-police


This is hardly a new phenomenon. The linked BusinessWeek article claims the Federal program distributing military equipment to local police has been in place for almost two decades. But the surge in equipment available to the program over the last decade traces directly to the foreign and security policy decisions of US leaders. As the United States has involved more troops in conflicts overseas, it has needed more equipment for those troops. And when the conflicts wind down, the equipment has to go somewhere. Thus, the presence of military grade equipment, good or bad, in the inventory of local police forces has a direct connection to the foreign policy of the US.


While the presence of military equipment in the inventories of local police forces is an obvious manifestation of the porous boundaries between domestic and international affairs, I think there are less visible but no less important links at the ideational level. Specifically, I am referring to US political culture and the ways in which American society understands and responds to threat. In this context, the militarization of the police—detailed in many places including Radley Balko’s 2013 book and a June 2014 ACLU report (which includes some sobering numbers about SWAT raids)—is part of a general trend of militarization within American political culture that has also manifested in its foreign policy. Andrew Bacevich, a professor emeritus at Boston University, has written on the militarization of American foreign policy extensively over the past decade. In common at the domestic and international level is increasing reliance on force to resolve conflicts and an emphasis on material rather than social means of maintaining order (the effect of capital versus labor in US strategy something Jon Caverley has addressed). I do not have an answer as to why American political culture operates in this way. But, thinking about the events in Ferguson in this light should remind scholars and analysts of international relations that the influence social structures and systems does not stop at the water’s edge. The division between domestic and international affairs is an analytical expedient rather than a social fact, and one that can obscure more than it helps illuminate.


Post-revolution Walk of Shame in Libya: women asked to ‘go home’ in the afterglow of the revolution

The exciting and tumultuous eve of the revolution in Libya has achieved many of its objectives: the power balance has swung in the rebel’s favor, many national governments around the world now recognize the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the legitimate leadership, and most (though not all) of the country is under their control.

In many ways, this week can be described as ‘the morning after’ the revolution in Libya. Rebels drunk on gun battles are now waking up with adrenaline hang-overs to the realities of post-revolution Libya. There’s mortar rounds everywhere, hundreds of displaced Libyans are crashing indefinitely in Tripoli, and- perhaps worst of all- Cameron and Zarkosy showed up way too early, keen to help get the revolutionary council on its feet/ensure their financial interests.

In keeping with classic ‘morning after’ politics, men are waking up with only hazy memories of which women were at the party and what they did to contribute to the revolution. The TNC are trying to get their house in order for Cameron and Zarkosy as well as for the international media and for some reason these women just keep hanging around asking about what kind of future there is for them together, wanting some kind of commitment. The TNC’s responses so far reminds me of the scene in the movie Bridesmaids when Jon Hamm’s character turns to Kristen Wiig after a one night stand and says “I really want you to leave, but I don’t want to sound like a dick.”

Women supported the revolution in Libya in countless ways- from hiding and feeding rebel fighters to taking up arms themselves– yet now that the post-revolution glow has worn off, the TNC seems to be asking women to take their walk of shame. The party is over, and this morning, the Transitional National Council has just one woman. Will the rest of the women who sacrificed for the movement- taking up new roles, and fighting for political change- be asked to get out of the political bedroom? Can the TNC really expect to rebuild Libya and move forward without acknowledging the significance of women’s role in the movement?

Unfortunately, women’s walk of shame post-conflict or post-revolution is all too familiar. Women have struggled to maintain a significant voice in the new Egypt; similarly, women who fought as soldiers within rebel forces in countries like Sierra Leone and Angola often found themselves left out of post-conflict political agenda setting. For these women, as is likely for many Libyan women, the last thing desirable post-conflict/revolution is a ‘return to normal.’ For women, this means giving up any power gained and fitting themselves back into traditional patriarchal gender hierarchies. The TNC and the international community must stop the pattern of revolutionary one-night stands and work not only to acknowledge women’s role in the political movement, but also to secure political space for women as Libya faces a new day.


Must Men Be Pigs? The C*jones Conundrum

Last week was full of bad news for those of us with c*jones:  One of my co-genders, who just happened to run the IMF, caught redhanded (or something) after assaulting a chambermaid; another, the very model of a manny-man rather than a girlie-man, fessing up to having sired a child with an employee over a decade ago. This week a one-time Presidential front-runner facing indictment for using campaign money to cover up news about his own love-child.

Maybe I’ve just missed it, but it seems that most of the justifiably angry responses to these events have come from the distaff side:  Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, etc.   Deservedly so.  But men, especially those of us in the social sciences, should have our say too!  Silence does not mean that the vast majority of us condone these actions.  More likely, it indicates our embarrassment, even shame.  Let me take up the sword and kick these men while they are down.
There is no defense for what they have done.  (OK, admittedly DSK is innocent until proven guilty, but the many stories circulating about his past “exploits” paint a pretty damning picture.)  They thoroughly deserve all the opprobrium and ridicule they are getting.  The fact that they are put in electronic stocks for all the world to see is somewhat satisfying. 
But somehow, despite all the social punishments they receive, these appear to have only modest deterrent effects.  One might have thought that Bill Clinton’s protracted, worldwide disgrace would have scared off even the most reckless of the lot.  But of course Bill has long since been rehabilitated, and it’s obvious that his case has done little to deter. 
The world cries out for a better policy solution!  But first, of course, we need a few reams of high quality social science research.  So let me throw down the gauntlet here too.
To begin, a research question:  Not to put too fine a point on it, why can’t these men keep it in their pants?  Or to put this in social science terms:  Are they outliers?  Of course, I shouldn’t pick on DSK or the Sperminator.  There are so many more out there, from Sacramento to Rome, that it would be tedious to name them.  They’ve even given legitimate activities a bad name.  How many of you no longer dare stroll the Adirondack trail blithely smoking a stogie?   So, to put this in broader terms, given the right situation, is any man likely to do what these Bozos have done?  (Take that, selection bias!)
Some might say these are questions important only to psychologists—or tabloids.  But I see them as questions of politics—even international politics!  I once believed that a politician’s personal life should not be an important basis for deciding who to vote for.  But I have to say that the accumulated peccadilloes and outright crimes of the last decades are making me re-think that belief.  Bad judgment, risk-taking, and an inability to defer fulfillment in one field seem likely to spill into others, if you will.  Of course, that’s not to say that politicians with seemingly tranquil personal lives will not also make extremely bad decisions, as several of our recent Presidents amply attest.
But back to my research questions.  These come down to critical theoretical issues that social scientists must concern themselves with!  Thinking out loud (or, as we at the Duck are fond of saying, en blog), they concern the respective weight of identity (as married), networks (jointly formed during marriage), and the political institutions that new (and old) institutionalists are so fond of writing about.  How strongly do the bonds of trust, respect, and love created in marriage shape one’s identity?  To what extent do the broader networks in which married couples–even political couples–become enmeshed, keep them in line?  Or does institutional position so affect/infect the personality that those in lofty political, entertainment, or business positions are at higher risk of infidelity than others?
As a brief digression, let’s not forget our own institutions, fellow academics.  Anyone who works at an undergraduate teaching institution understands that, given students’ diverse dressing habits these days, even the most pointy-headed scholar faces daunting occupational hazards too.  (I’ve often considered contacting the producers of Most Dangerous Catch to suggest that they broaden their concept to the most perilous jobs in America—and film an episode in a typical college classroom devoid of the high school “nurse’s office” where the scantily clad can be sent for wardrobe refurbishment.)
Feminist scholars:  note that the prior two paras are written in gender neutral terms.   Are there examples of women in powerful offices, especially political offices, who have gone astray?
But back to my research questions!  Fundamentally, these go to the heart of the agent-structure debate, even if this glaringly obvious fact has only dawned on the most enlightened of the disciplinary cognoscenti.  Does the presidency (or governship) of your choice make the man–or does the man make the presidency?  Are people like DSK hapless victims of circumstance/structure/institution, as his lawyers seem likely to argue?   (Poor Arnold!)  Or, hard as it seems to believe, can they actually make choices, notwithstanding the structural conjuncture in which they find themselves?   Indeed there is a good chance of solving that hoary social science chestnut with a concerted, multi-year, multi-million dollar research thrust into these issues, if you will.
But back to my research questions!!  Perhaps they are misconceived, if you will.  Is there a hidden variable I am missing?  For instance, perhaps the inflated egos that typically go along with the quest for high office are coupled with a higher likelihood of super-charged libidos?  If so, we men may be fated to endure these kinds of embarrassing events perpetrated by our more successful members–from here to eternity?  

Most pressingly of all, why hasn’t political science paid attention to the c*jones conundrum?  For future research proposals, scholarly articles, and bestsellers, I hereby bleg your insights, theoretical perspectives, research designs, etc.


Presidential Reading List: (After you probably get through the ones with ‘Bacevich’ on the cover)

Dan Drezner has issued a call to arms!… or to your library card:

“I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions — if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?”

I have a gut feeling that all of the answers are going to be grand strategy, grand strategy and some war on terror/Afghanistan. (Although, maybe I’m not being generous enough… but looking at the comments on Drezner’s post, I don’t think so.) So I’m going to suggest three books that touch on issues presented by ethical and political leadership as well as the war on terror, with a little bit of history thrown in on the side. Oh yeah – they’re all very good reads – Senators are going to be reading these things on planes, right?

(And for comparison, with an American IPE guy, Kindred Winecoff’s take is here.)

1. Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

I think this book actually deserves its own post, let alone a mention here. It won (and very much deserved) the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize in 2010. Basically Demick interviews North Korean defectors who now live in South Korea about their experiences north of the 38th Parallel. But it’s not just a book about North Korea – most of the individuals in the book lived through the famine that struck the country in the 1990s. And gradually, as the story of the expats unfold, you learn what it is like to live through a famine – bonuses slowly disappear, soon the shelves aren’t stocked, and people begin to sell off their possessions to buy food on a dangerous black market. It gets worse – seeing increasing numbers of abandoned children at the train station, walking overtop of people literally starving to death – but in such a way that you’ve become numb to the suffering, so as to not be overwhelmed buy it. And eventually to see your family and friends die.

“From the outside, Chongjin looked unchanged. The same gray facades of the Stalinist office buildings stared out at empty strtches of asphalt… But Mrs. Song knew better. It was a topsy-turvy world in which she was living. Up was down, wrong was right. The women had the money instead of the men. The markets were bursting with food, more food than most North Koreans had seen in their lifetime [in the black markets], and yet people were still dying from hunger. Worker’s Party members had starved to death; those who never gave a damn about the fartherland were making money.” (p. 157)

It’s a powerful book and a brilliant insight into a country which we know little about. In short, learn about North Korea, but also what it is like to live through starvation and suffering and how people cope and survive. And I’m sure there’s a lesson in there for dealing with North Korea for the aspiring policy maker.

2. Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010

This is a book by one of the UK’s foremost historians of the Cold War. Effectively, it is about how governments counter threats – whether it is through intelligence agencies or nuclear deterrence. It is on this later topic, nuclear weapons and nuclear politics where Hennessy’s book is really chilling. How would a society cope with the ultimate worst case scenario – nuclear war? How can governments plan for the unthinkable? One of the most unsettling chapters is about Exercise INVALUABLE – a simulation for UK government officials in 1968 of a weeklong countdown to WWIII. According to the exercise at 1200 hour ZULU:

“Today’s newspapers give particular prominence to Soviet advances into West Germany and of the fighting in Northern Norway and on the Jugoslav/Italian border. Radio programs were interrupted this morning to report the amphibious attack against the Danish Islands. In leading articles, the ‘Times’ and the ‘Guardian’ urge that the West should not initiate a tactical nuclear exchange.”

Beyond this, it is a useful look back at how government looked at ‘subversive’ organizations, managed intelligence and threats to the nation. It’s a useful reminder of where we’ve been with regards to national threats that provides good insight as to where we might be going.

3. Conor Folely, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

An excellent book by a former (recovering?) humanitarian. In short. Folely looks at the real consequences of good humanitarian intentions. How, for example, the international community’s intervention in East Timor completely distorted their economy – raising prices in local communities; and how the Timorese saw little of the billions of dollars spent on the peacekeeping mission there.

“A sudden, large influx of resources will invariably distort the local economy and the arrival of an international mission will have a destabilizing effect. However well-intentioned, the intervening participants will almost always be inadequately informed regarding specific local politics and culture. Even the worst-paid international aid workers are likely to earn several times more than the average local salary. …” (p. 143) 

Or while the intervention in Kosovo helped to protect the Kosovar Albanians, it failed to preent a reverse population expulsion as the Serbs were forced to leave Kosovo. It’s a very good critique – and a useful reminder that every humanitarian action seems to have an equal and opposite reaction. Additionally, it’s a useful examination of what happens when bodies established to alleviate human suffering and put an end to war end up making a case for just that.

So there you are – three books that have done well in the UK which may have some lessons for US policy makers (and none with Bacevich on the cover!)

Cheeky honourable mention: I realize that I have no IPE on this list. Not my area – but I like the writings of Michael Lewis. I’ve just started The Big Short and I’m looking forward to Boomerang.


Libya and ‘the shadow of Iraq’

At the beginning of every war, journalists must quickly find a frame that makes the new violence intelligible to their audiences. It is often convenient to compare new events to old events, to see what looks similar and what looks different (journalists routinely follow the principle of comparison earlier articulated by Sesame Street). In 2006, during the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman employed the Vietnam template in an op-ed: ‘in time we’ll come to see the events unfolding — or rather, unraveling — in Iraq today as the real October surprise, because what we’re seeing there seems like the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive’ (here, subscription required). The White House rarely responds to op-ed columns. Perhaps alarmed by possible parallels – afraid of the “quagmire” analogy – it responded directly to Friedman’s claim (here).

Yesterday the BBC’s Andrew North wrote:

There was something familiar in the night-time television images of broken concrete and twisted metal from Col Muammar Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound – the shadow of Iraq.
The largest military intervention in the Middle East since the Iraq war is now well under way, and to many the goal looks the same – regime change.
North suggests two things can be seen, the television images and ‘the goals’. There is an implied relationship between how things look and the motives behind the actions that lead to the images. The television images look like television images we saw in Iraq, so what might be happening might be what happened in Iraq, for the reasons that motivated those intervening in Iraq. What happened in Iraq could be a convenient ‘template’ for future events, and North is trying to fit Libya into that template. North adds weight to his argument by claiming that the goals look the same ‘to many’. ‘Many’ is a nebulous collective, but the many are watching these images and perhaps the many are thinking what North is thinking. He tries to alert readers to ways in which history is repeating itself:
Twelve years of no-fly zones and sanctions could not dislodge Saddam Hussein – and in the meantime it was the Iraqi people who bore the cost.
The choice of templates is political, not just a matter of convenience. North is using the 2003 Iraq War template to make a point. He could have used other templates to make other points. The comparison may be valid, and such speculation may serve to provoke readers into more serious thought about what is happening in Libya. But clearly, at this moment, there is space for journalists to offer a range of frames and North has chosen to frame Libya as falling under ‘the shadow of Iraq’, a metaphor for the cost that fell on Iraqi people. North has used a journalistic technique to warn political leaders against a course of action. Let’s see whether this template gains traction, as Thomas Friedman’s did in 2006.

James Ron: IR Profs Should Teach Religious Fluency

Here is a fabulous interview on Canadian TV with Professor James Ron of Carleton University. Ron’s key argument is that we are not giving our students a sufficient education if they leave our classes fluent in human rights discourse but not in the nuts and bolts of the world’s leading religions.

A real “aha” moment for me as a teacher – sure, I’ve always tried to make sure they know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a or the difference between an Islamic and a Muslim majority state, or the role of the Holy See at the UN, but Ron’s argument goes further: he’s not simply saying students should know facts about religion and politics, but that religious narrative itself is a language students need in order to communicate effectively as future diplomats. At the same time, he humbly and humorously reminds us what a socio-cultural mine-field such teaching can be, whether it’s our students or our own kids.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Women’s Bodies on the National and International Agenda

David Kirkpatrick yesterday wrote in the New York Times about how the health care debate is reviving the abortion debate in US politics. I read this article right after I saw a film that several of my feminist colleagues and friends recommended, called “Not Yet Rain.” Among other things at issue in this film is the Helms Amendment to the U.S. 1973 Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the use of U.S. aid funds to “motivate or coerce” or “perform” abortion as a method of family planning, but has been interpreted to deny assistance to clinics that mention abortion as an option or perform it in cases of rape. The Helms Amendment has made the news a number of times recently.

Abortion is an issue my (inner) lawyer has thought a lot about, both in terms of gender equality and in terms of the constitutional justification for its legality in the United States. I’ve written about the importance of abortion rights for gender equality, and the shakiness of privacy as a legal grounds to justify it. I’ve worked up an argument about abortion as a 13th Amendment right in the United States, arguing that the instances in which we deny the right to abortion are among the very few times that the United States government can compel someone to do labor (we do still call it that, right?) against their will.

But the simultaneous presence of abortion rights on the national and international agenda is more than an issue for the U.S. constitution, and more than a two-level games question. While some work has been done on the embodiment of the state, and some work has been done on individuals in international relations, the question of the role of the (actual) body in global politics is an important one that needs more attention in IR.

Katherine Moon, in Sex Among Allies,
examined how the bodies of women prostitutes in South Korea were crucial to the U.S./South Korea security negotiations in the 1970s. Fundamentally, the abortion/aid debate is about the foreign policy of/about women’s bodies. These are times when the embodiment of IR/foreign policy is, in some sense, obvious, though the role and meaning of the body in these debates requires exploration. Study of the body in IR, though, could go even further, to study the essence of embodiment and physicality in global politics, considering that the body is a fundamental part of political economy, security and war, and everyday political interactions.

While I don’t have a whole lot deep to say about it right now, it seems to be like there is an important research program to be had in the global politics of the body and the body in global politics, building on (feminist and other) work that has addressed physical/sexual exploitation, civilian immunity, and other phenomena and exploring new questions about how physicality impacts politics not only at the individual level, but across levels of analysis (like the abortion debate), and specifically at the state and international levels.


The Colonial Fleet Colonizes UN Headquarters

I kid you not. The Chicago Tribune reports the following:

“On March 17, there will be a “Battlestar” retrospective at the U.N. in New York and a panel discussion of how the show examined issues such as “human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith,” according to Sci Fi.

The “Battlestar” contingent on the panel will consist of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, as well as stars Mary McDonnell (who plays president Laura Roslin on the show) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama).

UN representatives on the panel are Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

The panel will be moderated by “Battlestar” fan Whoopi Goldberg.”

Comment away.

P.S. Hat tip to Greg Niermeyer, Polsci 121-A student and bigger geek than me.


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