I was supposed to be a lawyer.  That’s what my parents had told me; I was good at arguing, I liked school, and I was really interested in politics.  But something went terribly wrong (or right, depending on your perspective) and my professional life took another path into political science and specifically the study of the Soviet Union and then Russia.  Try as I might, by my sophomore year at the University of Toronto, I couldn’t get my mind off of the changes happening in the Soviet Union at the time (in the mid-1980s).  In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had become General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was a Soviet leader of a very different sort.  He popped out of limousines to shake hands with people lining the streets of the European cities he visited, he spoke of reconstructing the Soviet system in a program he called perestroika, and he threw the doors open to Soviet society, politics, and history in the ensuing years under “glasnost” or openness.  Suddenly, the Soviets seemed human, maybe even friendly, and to me as a Canadian, their weather, sports, and outdoors were familiar.  No longer would we need to drill for a nuclear attack by hiding under our desks in school (true story), as Gorbachev proceeded to sign arms control and then reduction agreements with presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

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Evaluating the significance and effects of economic sanctions is a serious challenge for scholars.  For one thing, appraising the outcomes of sanctions raises the question of perspective: from whose vantage point do we observe their use and effects?  While U.S. policymakers often change their approach to sanctions, to targeted countries the continuities in attitude are often more salient than the transfer of power in D.C. from one presidential administration to another.  At the same time, the impression among Western capitals and U.S. allies has been that the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 marked a serious strategic shift for United States foreign policy.  Any fully global assessment of sanctions must integrate these simultaneous perceptions of continuity as well as change.

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We cannot calculate President Trump’s “legacy” for United States foreign policy simply by describing his diplomacy while he was in power.  Virtuous fathers can fritter away family wealth, and Mafiosi can leave ill-gotten gains to charity.  It is still too early to know what long-term consequences might emerge, and it is difficult to sort out what trends would have prevailed even with a less disruptive leader.  Happily, a one-term presidency is less likely to leave durable wreckage in terms of our international reputation than eight years would have done.  My own admittedly non-impartial view is that Trump’s domestic legacy was more damaging and dangerous than his international one.  With his wanton disregard for truth, his use of social media to spread vituperation and contempt, whether for opponents or supporters who fell out of favor, his winking at practitioners of political violence, he simply trashed the norms needed for a functioning democracy – and that is not to mention the continual challenges to the 2020 election results.  Still, H-Diplo has asked about the consequences for foreign policy, and those remain the focus here.

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Two-time defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously remarked that there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.[2] Scholars and researchers aim at the known unknowns but should remain receptive to the unknown unknowns that may reveal themselves and upend the analysis.  Be open to those who disagree; sometimes they are right.  Reassessment is a virtue not a fault.  My study of Russia, China, and Japan began with false knowns, turned toward elusive unknowns, and has required continual reassessment.

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The United States faces a host of strategic geopolitical challenges today, many of which have long been brewing as a result of structural changes and some of which have been self-inflicted by successive administrations, most recently and most especially the Trump Administration.  In An Open World, Rebecca Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper deliver a lucid and incisive diagnosis of these multidimensional strategic challenges that is strengthened by their admirable restraint in dwelling on where any blame should be apportioned and is written in precise and elegant prose.  Their goal is to provide a clear-eyed assessment of the current geopolitical landscape facing the U.S. and to chart a strategy for how the U.S. should navigate the world it faces today in order to advance its national interests in a manner that is in line with its values — and they succeed, to a very large extent, on both counts.  An Open World is an important and timely contribution from two scholar–practitioners who wrote this immensely relevant book with the explicit aim of bringing rigorous research to bear on American foreign policy and are now positioned, as senior national security officials in the Biden Administration, to work to bring parts of their vision to fruition as they contribute to the new National Security Strategy and beyond.[1]

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Throughout his years in the public eye, former president Donald Trump has frequently said things that reveal his belief that the construct of ‘race’ is a valid measure of human difference and human worth.  In countless public utterances, he has used racist, derogatory language to insult, belittle, and abuse non-white people.  He has also conflated whiteness with American-ness, implying that the United States is a racial community of white people whose non-white residents cannot be incorporated into the nation because of their race.  After all, he rose to national political prominence primarily through his prolonged racist campaign against President Barack Obama, claiming that Obama had been born in Kenya and was also a Muslim.  And his announcement in June 2015 that he would seek the presidency featured the defining comment of what might be called Trump’s “racial panic.” Speaking about immigration to a group of cheering supporters, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.  They’re not sending you.  They’re not sending you.  They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”[1]

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“So how do you compare women’s status in the U.S. and Japan?” Despite advance preparation, I had not anticipated this question.  I froze.  No, I was not defending my master’s thesis.  The question was posed by an immigration officer at Milwaukee International Airport.  I was returning to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, after a winter break in my native Japan, and my reason for re-entry, stated in my immigration document, was graduate education in sociology and women’s studies.  Before me was a female agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), her blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun, her blue eyes expressionless, and her holstered handgun gleaming.  At graduate school I was accustomed to handling questions under a figurative gun but never a literal one.  If I gave a “wrong” answer, I wondered, would I get into trouble?

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Paul W. Schroeder, emeritus professor of history and political science at the University of Illinois and perhaps the most distinguished diplomatic historian of his generation, died last December at the age of 93.  In the course of his long career Schroeder wrote four major books:  The Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Relations, 1941 (1958);  Metternich’s Diplomacy at Its Zenith, 1820-1823 (1962);  Austria, Great Britain, and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert (1972); and his masterpiece, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848 (1994).[1]  He also published a large number of articles, some of which were quite influential, dealing mostly with European great power politics in the century and a half before the outbreak of the First World War, but covering other subjects as well.[2]

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On Earth Day 2021, at a U.S.-organized climate summit, the Biden administration pledged to cut U.S. emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030 and earmark billions in new development aid for environmental projects in developing countries.  It was a bold recommitment to climate multilateralism, the administration argued, a restoration of U.S. leadership in the system of global climate governance: the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).[1] Both the IPCC, launched in 1988, and the UNFCCC, created at the landmark 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, received strong bipartisan support from a Republican White House and Democratic House and Senate.

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President Joe Biden has called the current moment an “inflection point,” both domestically and internationally.[2] In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, some forces within the Republican Party have made clear that they no longer believe democracy is in the best interests of their party.  Rather than adjusting their message and policies to broaden their base of support, many in the GOP have doubled down in support of baseless claims of electoral fraud to enact voter suppression laws in the hopes of increasing their odds of success at the ballot box in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.[3]

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