With one very important exception, and despite a number of rhetorical and stylistic differences, the Trump Administration’s approach to the Middle East is not substantially different from that of the Obama Administration. President Barack Obama prioritized the fight against Salafi jihadist groups (al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], and their offshoots) above other regional goals, as does President Donald Trump. Both came to office evidencing a general reluctance to get involved in large-scale military actions, reflective of their common perception that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake, though in both cases they proved willing to use military force in the region. Both publicly committed their administrations to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Obama’s efforts there failed and the first ventures by Trump do not look promising. While Trump criticized Obama during the 2016 campaign for ignoring the interests of traditional American allies in the region, it is hard to sustain the proposition that the Obama Administration substantially altered American policy toward Israel and Saudi Arabia and that the Trump Administration is thus ‘restoring’ past ties.
While covert action had been a staple of American national security policy long before the Cold War, it was with that conflict that it gained wide-spread recognition as a key instrument of policy. Even after decades of analysis, however, we still are grappling with the question of what benefits these operations have provided to America’s national security. How has their use actually promoted key foreign policy objectives? Even more mundanely, can we even determine that they were successful? These questions have become even more acute as covert action has become an increasingly important weapon in our worldwide struggle against terrorism. Its extensive use throughout the world since 9/11—and the questions that have arisen about their effectiveness— has once again brought these concerns to center stage. Simply put, has covert action provided any benefits to the promotion of American national security interests?
An eleven year old George Kennan began keeping a diary on January 1, 1916. At the very start of the diary he wrote “In this simple, little book, A record of the day I cast; So I afterwards may look back upon my happy past” (684). Due to Kennan’s remarkably lengthy and prolific career as a policymaker, diplomat, and scholar, as well as the undeniable impact he has had on the direction of American foreign policy during the Cold War, historians have long been attracted to studying his thoughts and actions. No one could ever plausibly claim that Kennan has been ‘understudied’ and his two volumes of memoirs also offered many personal insights into his inner thoughts. However, with the publication of Frank Costigliola’s edited collection of Kennan’s diaries from the period between 1916 and 2004, there is little doubt that scholars will continue to be fascinated by the complexities of Kennan’s life and career. It is a life that was certainly not simple and, despite all of his accomplishments and honors, the diaries make it abundantly clear that happiness was never Kennan’s dominant mood.
Each year, undergraduates in my introductory course on international relations read three articles by Robert Jervis. His classic “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma” forces students, so often used to thinking in terms of intentions and motivations, to recognize how structure can lead to tragic outcomes in world politics. They then turn to a chapter from his book Perception and Misperception, which explains that intentions and motives are critical to deciding if one is in a spiral or deterrence situation. Finally, they encounter “Was the Cold War a Security Dilemma,” which mixes careful history and nuanced theory to argue that competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was in fact not a security dilemma, that it stemmed more from the clash of two revolutionary, crusading social systems than dynamics inherent to the anarchic system.
Will the international community be able to build consolidated democratic regimes in Afghanistan or Iraq in the context of decade-long military interventions in those nations? In “Forced to be Free?” Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten argue persuasively that if foreign nations intervene in a state simply to impose a new leader on that state, democracy is unlikely to flourish regardless of whether the intervening state is democratic or autocratic. Active efforts to impose democracy by force are unlikely to succeed unless they take place in the context of domestic conditions that facilitate democratization. Many scholars have made similar arguments in the past, but this effort stands out because it presents a novel data set of cases of foreign-imposed regime change that goes back to 1816. It also is one of the first studies of this issue that takes into account the problem of selection effects and which can offer an informed answer to the question of whether democracy promotion by force fails because of the intent and/or actions of the intervener or because interveners choose tough cases in which to try to build democratic regimes. While the article represents an excellent contribution to this important debate, a broader conception of foreign-imposed regime change might lead to somewhat different interpretations than those presented in this work.
Let it be stated at the outset: the virtual weapon has not fundamentally changed the nature of war. Further, insofar as the consequences of its use do not rise to the level of traditional interstate violence, there will be no such thing as cyber ‘war.’ In these respects, those who claim that the contemporary cyber peril is overblown are correct. Yet the Clausewitzian philosophical framework—a cherished device of the cyber skeptics—misses the essence of the cyber revolution: the new capability is expanding the range of possible harm and outcomes between the concepts of war and peace, with important implications for national and international security. The disanalogy of war conveys only what the cyber issue is not; it does not reveal the true significance of the danger, and may even conceal it.
Many scholars and policymakers concerned with the proliferation of nuclear weapons assume that the passage of time has made it much easier for states and terrorist groups to achieve their nuclear ambitions. For example, in their book The Nuclear Express, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman reflect this common assumption: “Any well-industrialized society with the intellectual firepower, economic resources, and government determination can join the nuclear club less than three years from go.”
Comparative studies of ancient and modern policy, strategy, diplomacy, and imperialism seem to be all the rage at the moment, with most of the impetus coming from scholars of ancient societies rather than from those concerned with the modern world. The recent edited volume under review by well-known Classicist and conservative political commentator Victor Davis Hanson pays homage to two pathbreaking studies with similar titles, and has a clear and unapologetic presentist editorial agenda: “to consider the relevance of [ancient] strategy to later warfare, and especially to the conflicts of our times” (4).
Mark L. Haas is, along with his mentor John M. Owen, part of a two-man wrecking crew exposing the ideological foundations of international politics. His latest effort, The Clash of Ideologies: Middle Eastern Politics and American Security, expands on previous work Haas and Owen have done on “ideological distance” and applies these ideas to three decades of international politics in the Middle East. In so doing, Haas has written a book that is theoretically innovative, scientifically progressive, empirically wide-ranging, and policy relevant. Anyone who wants to understand the interplay of ideological and realist variables or the intricate politics of a region central to American foreign policy needs to read this book.