Tell us this cannot happen, the Japanese said to their American friends, listening to Republican Party nominee Donald J. Trump during the 2016 campaign. Trump attacked Japan as an economic predator, disdained American allies as free riders, and broadly rejected the U.S. grand strategy that had benefited Japan tremendously. Friends in Boston and Washington D.C. (and New Hampshire) assured the Japanese that Trump was unelectable, and that under a Hillary Clinton presidency, Japan would resume its place as a valued American ally. Trump’s election was thus a profound shock to Japan—the latest in a long line of shokku from the United States to jolt Tokyo.
Donald Trump made immigration and refugee policy central to his presidential campaign. According to Trump, radical Islamic extremism and the massive refugee flows out of the Middle East combined to created unacceptable risks. Following the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernadino, California, the Trump campaign called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Trump insisted that his proposal would buy time to review and improve the process for screening new arrivals. He mocked the idea that U.S. procedures for vetting refugees were sufficient to stop terrorists from entering U.S. soil, and he promised to take swift action upon entering office.
The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has prompted deep reflection, even soul-searching, by scholars of international affairs. For the historians among them, the natural tendency is to connect the past to the present, and even the future. What major historical continuities in U.S. Middle East policy is Trump inheriting from his predecessor? Will his administration represent a continuation or a break from these policies? Thinking ahead four or even (dramatic pause) eight years, what legacies will the Trump administration leave?
Trying to make critical sense of the current state of foreign affairs is treacherous business for anyone, but for an historian it comes close to pursuing a death wish. Even with all the advantages of hindsight, the past remains shrouded to varying degrees, while decoding the present is like trying to see through a blinding sandstorm of events. But if there is much that remains unclear, at least the basic frame of mind of Donald Trump’s presidency is known. Recently, Stephen K. Bannon, the President’s Svengali, looked forward to the “deconstruction of the administrative state” in America. Given the tenor of Trump’s comments on international issues over the past year—about foreign trade, NATO, China, nuclear weapons, Russia, the Middle East, etc., etc.—the dismantling of the American-led world order that has been in place since the end of World War II is also a real possibility.
We thank Christopher Darnton for his thoughtful and useful critique, and we are in agreement with many of his points. However, Darnton perhaps overstates the goals of our article. Notably, Darnton faults the article for failing to test a “causal explanation of Latin American foreign policy against alternatives.” Our article does not claim to test a fully specified, causal theory of soft balancing; in the prominent literature of the subject, no such theory has been enunciated (as noted on 134). That theory would need to clearly specify external conditions and causes for cross-case testing and delineate observable implications of a causal process for within-case testing. This is an important task, but ultimately not one we attempted. The literature on soft balancing, our article included, is more focused on concept formation. We extend the concept to a new case and to the context of regional unipolarity, while striving not to dilute it.
These are tough times for historians. I’m referring not just to the proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Wilson Center, but to the more profound psychological sense that I have experienced, as President Donald Trump has overtaken the news cycle, of freefall. I am grappling for a toehold.
In 1993, the Czechoslovakian poet-and-playwright-turned-president Václav Havel declared that “the fate of the so-called West is today being decided in the so-called East.” Havel warned that “if the West does not find the key to us…or to those somewhere far away who have extricated themselves from communist domination, it will ultimately lose the key to itself. If, for instance, it looks on passively at “Eastern” or Balkan nationalism, it will give the green light to its own potentially destructive nationalisms, which it was able to deal with so magnanimously in the era of the communist threat.”
From deciding whom to engage in business, romantic, and other relationships to which professors to take courses from, to whether to entrust one’s fortune and wellbeing to unknown strangers – for instance, a doctor, a real estate broker or a babysitter – we often rely on our “gut” feeling upon initial contact to estimate a person’s intentions, character, and competence. First impressions matter.
Quite a few scholars in International Relations (IR) date its origin as a field of study from 1919; others, including this reviewer, see the years directly after World War II as the point of origin. Either way, IR is the new gang on the block, seriously short on street cred. The block housing the social sciences itself is newish and not much respected in the neighborhood; lots of kids in the newer gangs like to brag about where their ancestors come from, how great they were back then, how they set the tone for everybody in the neighborhood, how it is good to go back and look at what they had to say about life in the ’hood. Our gang does this more than any of the others, or so it seems to me. I do it—a lot. It’s easy, it’s fun, it makes us feel good, it’s not likely to get much notice down the block. Which is also good: the other gangs don’t give us much grief. And not so good: they still don’t give us much respect. Anyway, it’s a game, a kid’s game, a story-telling game, “an amusing jeu d’esprit” (4), as the editors of The Return of the Theorists tell us.