My interests in global politics were sparked at a young age while growing up in north central Iowa.  Farming communities are keenly aware of events in world politics that can affect the price of crops, land, and equipment.  My parents were informed and engaged in politics and got me interested in participating in and studying politics at a young age.  My mom helped organize local caucuses, usually at neighbors’ farmhouses, and she volunteered at a voting site at the fertilizer plant where my dad worked.  We bumped into political candidates in nearby cities and we experienced incredible access to political candidates as the first caucus state for presidential elections. We moved to the “big city” when I was 16 and I lived across the street from a retired schoolteacher (Vivian, also my daughter’s name), who invited to me her house for coffee to discuss politics.  I didn’t fully appreciate those early access points to the study of politics and international relations (IR), but my background profoundly shaped the questions and theories that I found compelling in my academic journey. It is perhaps fitting that I am now the F. Wendell Miller Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa, a named chair that was funded by an Iowan farmer.

Continue reading

Four years ago, we wrote that Donald Trump’s presidency could spell the end of an already weakened liberal international order.[1] Now that the Trump presidency is in the rearview mirror, what can we make of what transpired for U.S. foreign policy and the global order?  In this essay, we review what we wrote four years ago, survey the Trump administration’s foreign policy record, and assess how the Biden administration may – and may not be – constrained by Trump’s foreign policy legacy.

Continue reading

When Ben Rhodes, a top foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, dubbed the Washington foreign policy establishment the “Blob,”[1] one question that probably occurred to many H-Diplo/ISSR readers was, “What will Jervis think of this?”

Continue reading

After a year of Donald Trump in the White House, and drawing on the lessons of the turn inward (by Herbert Hoover and even Franklin D. Roosevelt) during the Great Depression era, I argued that his hyper-nationalism in trade policy was inimical to U.S. economic and diplomatic interests.[1]  His vocal and staged protectionism shirked decades of internationalism and threatened peace and security, as well as profits. Such economic nationalism hurt the United States, and the world, in the 1930s, and it could do so again. That turned out to be true.

Continue reading

At the beginning of my career, I had strong ideas about what I wanted to do and research, none of which outlived the realities I met.  Unexpected adventures, enormous opportunities, huge historical shifts, and serendipitous encounters helped me ‘learn the scholar’s craft.’  The drive of my own intellect may have been the least important factor.  So I adapted.  I have a willful temperament, and that was difficult, but luck and key mentors helped.  Along the way I have never been bored.

Continue reading

Candidate Trump, and then President Trump, advocated for a dramatic change in the direction of American foreign policy, which he labelled “America First.” His vision stood in stark contrast to the liberal internationalism (LI) pursued by most presidents since World War II.  For Trump, unilateralism would replace multilateralism; retrenchment would replace global engagement; pursuit of short-term, transactional American interests above all else would replace international cooperation.  These dramatic changes in direction were to be accomplished through many smaller steps taken in relation to each issue area and across many countries.

 

Continue reading

By the time he lost his bid for reelection, President Donald Trump had fulfilled many of his campaign promises regarding international law.  On trade policy, he abolished the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and replaced it with a revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), and he launched a tariff war with China in hopes of making a better deal on bilateral trade.  On climate change, he pulled out of the 2016 Paris Accord, as promised.  As far as we know he did not fulfill his vow to defy domestic and international prohibitions on torture, as his main military advisers counseled against it, and he listened for a change.  Reflecting an animus against arms control treaties with Russia, even longstanding ones negotiated by Republican predecessors, Trump withdrew the United States from the Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and the Open Skies Treaty, and he expressed eagerness to resume testing of nuclear weapons, an action that would violate the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, had the United States ever ratified it.

Continue reading

Historians seem to have a problem with Trump.  I do not mean by this the dominance of partisan hostility to Trump in the ranks of the historical profession, or even the way in which many historians have been offended by the way in which the president has treated history as a resource to be exploited, rather than a reality to be respected or understood.  The more substantial problem posed by Trump is that for many historians he simply should not exist.  The possibility that the conclusion of the evolution of the United States across the half-century since the 1960s could be the election – albeit against the weight of individual votes – of a man who boasts of his distaste for the goals of racial equality, wider health-care provision, and a narrowing of income differentials, seems to many historians to be somewhere between an institutional outrage and an absurd accident of history.  But the political is supplemented by the personal.  Trump’s swagger, and his disregard for bureaucratic procedure and legal constraints, stands as a refutation of deeply-held assumptions among historians about how the democratic politics of the U.S. are supposed to work. The complexity of institutional procedures, the careful reconciliation of competing interests, and above all the prestige of the presidency as the symbol of democratic legitimacy, have all been bulldozed by a man whose personal qualities – or lack of them – seem like an insult to the historical narrative.

Continue reading

We should be wary when we look back at our own lives and try to discern a pattern.  Historians know that one of the common fallacies in looking at the past is to assume that things were bound to turn out as they did, to see a chain of causality in what may be random events or simple coincidences.  And we should also remind ourselves that success or failure is not due to the individual alone but to circumstances, timing and luck.

Continue reading

Unlike, perhaps, any previous occupant of the Oval Office, the election of the 45th president of the United States in 2016 triggered intense soul-searching in America, and this introspective exercise is likely to continue for some time yet.  Unfit for office in the first place, far from being tamed by the weight of his responsibilities, President Trump became more disruptive and dangerous with time.  But whatever the economic costs or the social, racial, and cultural divisiveness of his brand of politics or the strain he has placed, by design, ignorance, or recklessness, on America’s constitutional arrangements, his turbulent presidency also left an imprint on international affairs, and historians will find in that period much on which to reflect and debate.

Continue reading