In The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, William Joseph Burns writes about his life and times in the hope that his reflections—and regrets—will be helpful to the next generation of diplomats. Diplomacy “is by nature an unheroic, quiet endeavor,” as the author puts it, “less swaggering than unrelenting, often unfolding in back channels out of sight and out of mind.” (10) As he was taught early in his career, diplomacy is about managing problems, not solving them.
Tag: United States
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.
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, 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 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; 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. Americans may be supportive of realist foreign policy, but even if we allow for the framing of the war in Iraq as being in part of the War on Terror 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).
No president has cast as much uncertainty over American alliances as Donald Trump. Despite the assiduous damage control of his rotating secretaries of State and Defense and national security advisors, comments from the chief executive matter; uncertainty has increased. Moreover, the unexpected willingness of the president to undertake direct, high-level contacts with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are both promising and unsettling. Do these contacts augur peace on the peninsula? Or are they but another example of the long-standing North Korean effort to drive wedges between the alliance partners? And looming still larger over these questions is the role that China’s rise might have in determining the alliance’s future. Will it, for example, strengthen as China’s capabilities increase and become more threatening? Or will the desire to accommodate Beijing pull South Korea away from the United States?
On 5 August 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy within India, including a separate constitution, a state flag and control over internal administrative matters. At the same time, Modi’s government also abolished Article 35A, which is part of Article 370, and which mandated that only permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir could own property in the region. Fearing unrest, India deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to the region, and blacked out most communication.
The relationship between war, taxes, and public opinion has long interested scholars of democracy and international security. In theory the fiscal costs of war should restrain leaders from starting them, especially if those costs are born by the public on whose support they rely. According to Sarah Kreps, however, American leaders have not been constrained in this way for decades. They have learned to find alternatives to the kind of war taxes that concentrate public attention. They have also fought prolonged wars with volunteer forces. No draft, no tax, no protest.
I think it is fair to say that over the past hundred years most academic students of international politics have urged the United States to take a more active position in the world, one that was more commensurate with its economic power and stake in what was happening around the globe. Roughly a decade ago this began to shift, with many in the field, especially those of the Realist persuasion, urging that it would be better for the U.S. and for others for it to be less assertive. Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions is one of the strongest statements, of this view; our reviewers’ evaluations are not surprisingly correlated with their own views of the subject. Michael Desch has written in a vein similar to Walt’s and says that “many superlatives” can be applied to “Walt’s fine book”; Paul MacDonald has written about the virtues of retrenchment and finds the book “provocative” and “persuasive;” Sergey Radchenko, an historian from the UK who has not been deeply involved in debates on current American foreign policy says that Walt’s damning description “rings true”; Kori Schake is a distinguished member of the foreign policy establishment that Walt so strongly criticizes and perceives this book as “not so much a work of scholarship as a diatribe.”
“Would U.S. leaders push the button?” Reid B. C. Pauly provocatively asks in the title of his recent International Security article. We know from history that the answer to that question has been an almost unqualified no. To date, President Harry S. Truman remains the only world leader to have ordered nuclear weapons to be used in war; since the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki no leader has pushed this symbolic nuclear button. This non- use of nuclear weapons has puzzled scholars for decades.
How does a democratic (U.S.) government wield secrecy? This is the core question of Andris Banka and Adam Quinn’s “Killing Norms Softly: US Targeted Killing, Quasi-Secrecy and the Assassination Ban,” which advances a theory of how norms of secrecy can be changed to serve executive needs. Focusing on the case of targeted killing under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the article provides context for the case by explaining how norms develop. The authors challenge the assumption that a change of norms requires public advocacy by arguing that official secrecy can play “an instrumental role in the process of normalizing potentially controversial shifts” (666).
The Bridging the Gap book series at Oxford University Press publishes works that are theoretically grounded and policy relevant. The co-editors—Bruce Jentleson, Steve Weber, and I—marked the formal launch of the series in 2018 with the publication of Georgetown University Professor Matthew Kroenig’s The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy.