In this important article, Ahsan Butt advances an innovative argument for why the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Countering other common explanations, Butt argues that the United States was not motivated by a desire to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), promote democracy in the Middle East, or satisfy pro-war domestic interest groups. Instead, he maintains, the U.S.-led overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a “performative war” carried out to generate “demonstration effects” (263)—in particular, to show adversaries and potential challengers that the United States would act with overwhelming force to counter any threats to its power and standing. Backed up by a compelling array of evidence, this argument represents a major contribution to understanding the origins of the Iraq War.

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Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” is the most important contemporary political science thesis in U.S. higher education.

That is not an opinion, and it is certainly not an endorsement. It is a plain statement of fact. The best available source of evidence on how often professors assign readings, the Open Syllabus Project, records that Huntington’s “Clash” appears on syllabi 4,317 times—the 28th most frequently assigned text in all disciplines.[1] That places it ahead of Hamlet (4,283 appearances) and not far off from Plato’s Republic, Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto, or Aristotle, Hobbes, and Machiavelli.

This is surprising. […]

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In Rising Titans, Falling States: How Great Powers Exploit Power Shifts, Joshua Shifrinson offers an essential contribution to the renascent literature in international relations on rising great powers.[1] While much of this literature has focused on the strategies that declining powers adopt toward rising powers, Shifrinson flips this question on its head, inquiring about the strategies that rising powers pursue toward declining powers. Based on a combination of two different variables–the declining power’s strategic value and its military posture (i.e., its military capability as it declines)—Shifrinson predicts four different types of strategies ranging from most supportive to most predatory–strengthening, bolstering, weakening, and relegation. After developing his theoretical argument, Shifrinson offers two extended cases studies to test his arguments as well as shorter case studies in the conclusion to augment his empirical analysis. First, he examines Great Britain’s decline after World War II and the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union over Britain’s fate. Second, he examines U.S. strategies toward a declining Russia at the end of the Cold War. What one takes away from Shifrinson’s book is a fuller appreciation of the ways in which great powers are often not simply content with the power they have at the moment but are, in fact, always seeking ways to exploit changes in the international system to their advantage. Whether it be through strengthening or predation, rising great powers never let a good crisis—or power transition—go to waste.

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Although every negotiator I have talked to has stressed the importance of the personal relations with his or her opposite numbers, most academic theorizing ignores this dimension entirely. Nicolas Wheeler joins Marcus Holmes, whose Face-to-face Diplomacy will soon be reviewed on ISSF,[1] in arguing that academic research has paid a steep price for neglecting what practitioners understand. At a time of both heightened international tensions and an American president enamored of summit meetings, Wheeler’s Trusting Enemies is especially welcome. In it, he brings together literatures that are often separate: interpersonal relations on the one hand and inter-state rapprochements on the other; how states signal on the one hand and how they perceive on the other. Having written on both of the latter topics, I can testify to the fact that they are not only usually treated separately, but that rational choice is the common approach for the former while social psychology and constructivism predominate in the latter endeavor.

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Sixteen years after the beginning of the Iraq War, American public support for the war remains a puzzle. Why would the public, scarred by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and overwhelmingly supportive of sending troops to Afghanistan to capture al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and fight terrorism,[1] be willing to use military force on a different country, one not directly involved in attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon? The 9/11 attacks psychologically shook the public[2] and reshaped politics and society in the U.S., perhaps no more so than by involving the U.S. in two overseas wars that continue today. American support for wars is generally contingent[3]; Americans are more supportive of war when the war is expected to be short with few casualties, when military force is multilateral, and when the aim is military restraint rather than humanitarian. In times of crisis, the public does “rally around the flag,” increasing their support for the president and giving him more room to maneuver on foreign policy, an area where presidents already have an advantage.[4] Americans may be supportive of realist foreign policy,[5] but even if we allow for the framing of the war in Iraq as being in part of the War on Terror[6] and in the U.S. national interest George W. Bush administrations, we cannot fully explain why the public was supportive of the war as early as January 2002, as the authors document (3).

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Over the past ten years, revived debates on realism have generated one of the most fertile, and promising, bodies of literature in contemporary political theory.[1] Though empirically accurate, this statement might sound historically counter-intuitive, and thus invites some clarifications. A time-honored vision of politics, the realist approach to human affairs can in fact claim a distinguished pedigree that stretches back to the very beginnings of historical political theory.

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Since the periods of decolonization and the Cold War, Africa has been the site of numerous protracted conflicts. Some countries have experienced repeated cycles of violence and civil war, while other countries have headed off major conflict and maintained relative peace. What factors account for these differences? In a clear, compelling, theoretically innovative study, Philip Roessler argues that civil wars often emerge from power struggles among political elites. In fragile, ethnically divided states, powerholders have greater fear of coups d’état staged by rivals at the core than civil wars waged by excluded minorities on the periphery. As a result, powerholders in weak states are likely to incorporate potential rivals at the center in a system of ethnic power sharing and to exclude regional and ethnic minorities on the margins. While such tactics may work in the short term, ongoing rivalry at the center, compounded by political exclusion elsewhere, may eventually lead to the coup–civil war trap. In such cases, rival power aspirants may mobilize marginalized groups, with civil war as an outcome.

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In 1939, E.H. Carr published The Twenty Years’ Crisis,[1] which argued that the world was divided into two camps: utopians and realists. Utopians like President Woodrow Wilson and his followers had made a mess of the world through their well-intentioned but naïve attempts at international cooperation. Realists were those, like Carr, who recognized that the struggle for power and survival were perennial features of human life and politics among nations. Carr wanted policymakers to face the facts, acknowledge reality, and not get lost in idealistic dreams. ‘Realism’ as a professionalized academic school of international relations was born.

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On 14 February 2019 a suicide bomber struck an Indian Central Military Reserve Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, killing about 40 Indian paramilitary personnel and injuring numerous others. Responsibility for the attack was swiftly claimed by the Pakistan based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, and confirmed by Indian authorities, immediately dragging the subcontinent—yet again—into a period of crisis. Expectedly, on 26 February, a poll-bound India retaliated with an unprecedented set of airstrikes on suspected Jaish camps in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan responded the next day with airstrikes of its own, with the consequent dogfight resulting in an Indian aircraft being brought down in Pakistani territory and its pilot captured alive.

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John Mearsheimer has written a stinging indictment of post-Cold War policy as being founded on a form of liberalism that ignores the realities of nationalism and the limits of the power of even the strongest states. It is reviewed here by four scholars of differing political and intellectual orientations, all of whom agree that this is an important and stimulating book. The clarity of the argument, the verve of the writing, and a willingness to stake out a strong claim on an important subject are the hallmarks of Mearsheimer’s scholarship and fully on display here. For Jennifer Pitts, this book is bracing and salutary; Jack Snyder says that this is “an incisive book that deeply analyzes the tendency of self-deluded post-Cold War liberalism to overreach in its efforts to remake the entire world in a liberal mold.” For William Wohlforth, Mearsheimer gives us “refreshingly bracing prose whose bluntness cannot conceal the profound learning it conveys,” and Christopher Layne writes that the great Delusion “Is an important book.”

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