Four years ago, I wrote that the Trump presidency would provide a test for many IR theories. It was clear from Trump’s campaign and his personal style that both his policy preferences and his methods of operation were outside of the political mainstream, and indeed this was a major part of his appeal to voters, even if they did not necessarily approve or even know of the specific policies he was advocating. What made this period so valuable to IR scholars, even if they disapproved of Trump, was that it would provide insight into the classic arguments about how much freedom of action an American president has and how much he was constrained by domestic interests, politics, and the international system. On this topic I found Kenneth Waltz’s well known levels of analysis framework particularly useful. The classic statement of the president’s power in the realm of foreign affairs is Aaron Wildavsky’s “The Two Presidencies.”
I never imagined I’d become a political scientist. As a child, my passion was for paleontology, and I pored over my books on fossils and dinosaurs until the pages were tattered all along the edges. Today, while I do have an impressive rock and mineral collection and I know where my loupe and rock pick are, I never became a paleontologist. As an undergraduate major in geology in the late 1970s, I discovered that jobs in that field were created with men and men’s lives in mind. I refused to accept either/or choices when my male peers would have only both/and choices. At the same time, General Education requirements forced me to take classes in anthropology and international relations, and I discovered that people and the societies they build were much more interesting than rocks, which were typically only dynamic if one lived far longer than the average human being. With nations and peoples, on the other hand, a lively soap opera of change fixed the gaze. It was almost impossible to look away once one understood the players, their interests, and their histories. From that detour when I was a young college student came an unexpected journey as a social science researcher.
Philip Nord’s After the Deportation is a compelling and ambitious account of ‘deportation memory’ in France. It revises the dominant silence-to-voice story that historians have nuanced and contested, but never fully dislodged. As the story goes, the French imagined deportees as anti-fascist, patriotic victims of the Nazi regime until the 1960s and 70s, when a younger generation questioned French complicity in the Holocaust along with French racism and colonialism. The student rebels of 1968 unearthed long-repressed memories about Jewish persecution and the Vichy regime that had been buried by both Gaullist and Communist accounts of French heroic martyrdom, and the earlier celebration of Resistance gave way to an emphasis on Jewish suffering. Although he does not question the turning points of this narrative, including the Gaullist myth of the Resistance, the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he treats them as important but insufficient explanations for the ‘repression’ or emergence of Holocaust memory in France.
Researching covert action is not easy. States pursue such operations to influence events without revealing their handiwork. Doing this successfully requires limiting the number of officials in the know, and enforcing secrecy measures to avoid leaving an incriminating paper trail. The documentary record is deliberately porous as a result, which complicates any effort to test theories about the logic of covert action. Nonetheless, creative and enterprising scholars have produced a number of excellent studies in the last few years, proposing new arguments about the causes of covert intervention, and the effects on international politics.
Culture shock. I have long encouraged students to take a semester abroad not just to learn about another country but to experience culture shock. The shock, I explain, is useful. It forces us to realize that some assumptions that are so ingrained that we consider them facts of human existence are, in reality, culturally contingent and learned. Living abroad helps Americans understand what it means to be an American.
Much has happened since July 2017 when my previous contribution to this H-Diplo project appeared. The central purpose of that essay was to push back against those who were then castigating President Donald Trump for tearing down a norms-based liberal international order that successive U.S. administrations had ostensibly erected since World War II. I strenuously questioned the existence of any such order. The purpose of this essay is to suggest that the Trump wrecking-ball may yet yield something useful.
Fintan Hoey’s book Satō, America, and the Cold War is a detailed, somewhat revisionist examination of the diplomacy of Japanese Prime Minister Satō Eisaku (in office 1964-1972), especially toward the United States. In contrast to prevailing scholarship that has tended to portray Satō as either an unwitting pawn of the United States, a dull, wishy-washy technocrat who survived by never committing to anything, or a cynical political operator who knowingly sacrificed Japan’s national interests to burnish his personal legacy, Hoey seeks to argue that “Satō Eisaku was a visionary statesman and leader” who “skillfully navigate[d] the ship of state” through rough currents to become “not only one of the great leaders of modern Japan, but also a major statesman of the twentieth century” (1, 21, 181).
It is difficult to pinpoint the moment at which I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science or to focus on political theory. I think of it more as a slow drift. I grew up until 13 in Ethiopia and Botswana. My dad, a biologist, taught at Addis Ababa University (AAU) and the University of Botswana, but while I had an academic parent, it never occurred to me that it would be my path too. My dad’s trajectory was part of a generational experience. He attended AAU at the height of the Ethiopian Student Moment and right before the Ethiopian revolution. In a Cold War context, he won a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) scholarship to study in the U.S., which allowed him to escape much of the repression of the 1970s. Yet, like many of his friends and colleagues, he pursued this opportunity with the intention of returning home to support the work of transforming his native land. Both his research and pedagogical preoccupations were tightly wound up with Ethiopia’s developmental project.
The politics of alliance formation is central to the study of international relations. Many prominent alliances have been forged since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 and the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Less well known is the fact that many treaty negotiations ended in failure. On these occasions, two or more countries wanted to form an alliance treaty but ultimately could not agree on the terms. The book featured in this roundtable, Paul Poast’s Arguing About Alliances: The Art of Agreement in Military-Pact Negotiations, seeks to explain why some treaty negotiations fail while others succeed.
Assessments of President Donald Trump in any future history of the U.S. intelligence Community (IC) will differ dramatically from those of any of his predecessors. While Trump made little use of the IC to inform or implement policy, he abused and ignored it incessantly. The closest precedent is Richard Nixon. Yet Nixon reserved his scorn largely for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and kept it private. Trump is an equal-opportunity abuser and rages publicly. The IC struggled mightily to recover from the Nixon years. The same can be said for the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and the flawed National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. The damage done by Trump and his enablers may prove irreparable. He gauged the IC according to its service to his own, not the national, interests. Because intelligence professionals refused to politicize their estimates, Trump politicized their leadership. If there is a silver lining, it is the potential for a better and more accountable institution to emerge. Achieving that outcome won’t be easy, however, and it will take precious time.