Health promotion & Mugabe. For real.

When you think great diplomats—the sorts of folks who can inspire large numbers of people, bring together disparate groups, and raise public awareness of key international issues—Robert Mugabe probably isn’t the first person who springs to mind.

And yet…guess who the World Health Organization just announced as its new goodwill ambassador for noncommunicable diseases in Africa?

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New Girl

Today’s headlines in several international newspapers had to struggle with too many possessive male noun forms: Putin’s mentor’s daughter Ksenia Sobchak announced that she would run for Russian Presidency next year. Russia’s Got Talent!

Not that the Kremlin thought that the upcoming ‘Putin referendum’ is in Jeopardy! The main contender Navalny is currently contemplating whether orange is the new black and will probably not get on the ballot anyway. The usual suspects (such as Zyuganov and Yavlinsky) have been trying to get that rose from the Russian population for too many seasons. Given that next year’s elections are scheduled on “Crimea Re-Unification Day”, there is no way anybody will be able to keep up with the Kardashian.

Sobchak’s bid looks very, very much improbable in this game of thrones. For starters, rumors about her being the ‘spoiler’ candidate that would split the opposition vote have been circulating for months, and even URL about her announcement in Vedomosti Newspaper is backdated to September 30th. Also, her mass media career might sort of arrest this development. To most Russians she is not really familiar as an oppositional journalist, but more so as a reality show host. Sobchak used to help ‘build love’ on a Russian reality TV show ‘Dom-2’ [House-2], where male and female contestants are supposed to build couples and an actual house that the best couple won at the end. The show includes numerous scenes of conflicts, fist fighting, swearing, masturbation and other delightful hallmarks of reality TV.

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The Book Nook: The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs

Our second Bridging the Gap Book Nook entry comes from Sarah Stroup of Middlebury College and Wendy Wong of the University of Toronto, who discuss their new book The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs (Cornell, 2017).

Emotions, Unconscious Bias, and Publishing

This is a guest post by Jana von Stein, Senior Lecturer, Political Science and International Relations Programme, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)

The recent scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual abuse and harassment of dozens of women has gotten me thinking about an experience I had not too long ago. To be sure, there are differences: what happened to me was not sexual, my suffering was short-lived, and I sought justice. But there were at least two important similarities: my experience was deeply gendered and offensive, and I didn’t tell many people. Why? Because I worried about the career implications. I didn’t want the many good and decent men in my field to perceive me as a male-basher. Continue reading

#MeToo

“The women who accused Harvey Weinstein did not act as women. Because sexual harassment – well, that’s great, honestly. And if you have a role, what difference does it make how you got it. […] In general, how can a man be accused of sexual harassment, is it not what he exists in this world for? If he has the power that he uses in this way, that’s good. It’s wonderful when a man who has so much power is sexually harassing you, isn’t it?”

No, it isn’t. But that is what a relatively famous Russian actress Lyubov Tolkalina had to say about the Hollywood scandal. Even though in the same article about Russian movie industry attitudes to Harvey Weinstein there were other opinions, including from men who sympathized with the victims of sexual assault and derided the hypocrisy of the movie industry in Russia and the US, so far the response to the Hollywood revelations in Russia have not necessarily been #MeToo. The underlying issue here is not just the patriarchal culture, but also the internalized misogyny and victim blaming that go with it, or, as Lyubov Tolkalina puts it, “A woman is always guilty in male sexual assault”. Being a part of a macho patriarchal culture is hard, so a lot of women side with the desirable and hierarchically higher in-group – men – and re-affirm female objectification and disparagement. Moreover, this kind of responses mirror the pushback against the social media campaign #IamNotAfraidtoSayIt (#янебоюсьсказать) initiated by a Ukrainian activist in 2016 where women in Post-Soviet space shared the horrifying stories of sexual abuse.

The stories under those Russian and Ukrainian hashtags showed that sexual assault and violence against women are, unfortunately, everyday and underreported phenomena. Statistics on domestic violence in Russia are disturbing: around 600,000 women suffer annually of domestic abuse, while approximately 60-70% of incidents of domestic abuse never even get reported. This was sarcastically captured in the headline of an article on domestic violence in Rossiyskaya Gazeta: ‘If he kills you, then report it’. In other words, law enforcement officials routinely discard the claims of domestic assault brought forward by women or claim that the women brought the violence on themselves. Apart from the physical violence, there is a general discursive tolerance towards violence against women.  Even women who suffered from domestic violence usually tend to justify it or reconcile with their offenders and continue to tolerate the abuse. Continue reading

Writing in Exile: A Belated Birthday Card

“In the first place, we don’t like to be called ‘refugees’.” ~Hannah Arendt

This past weekend was a weekend full of birthdays. Hannah Arendt’s 111th birthday fell on Saturday (October 14th), and—in an interesting coincidence—Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzsche share a birthday (October 15th). I teach and write about Foucault and Arendt, and there is a Nietzschean spirit in both, though Arendt’s engagement with his work ended abruptly with her death.

In honor of all three, I want to make some notes—sketches really—of what it means to write in exile, and, by extension, to teach in exile. I take this term from an excellent edited volume put together by the dramaturgist Marc Robinson titled Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, in which Arendt’s obscure 1943 article, “We Refugees” was reprinted. The volume collects essays from a variety of expatriate authors writing about the experience of writing about the trials, joys, and oddities of writing from a place “altogether elsewhere.”

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Americans Don’t Think Much of Trump’s “America First.” That’s Good, But …

This post comes from Bridging the Gap co-director Bruce W. Jentleson[*], Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University.

“Not much” and “less and less” is What Americans Think About America First, as documented in the latest Chicago Council on Global Affairs public opinion report.[†]  That’s somewhat reassuring. But only somewhat.

On one America First issue after another, the data show limited and declining support. On the general issue of maintaining alliances, 49% support compared to 38% who oppose. On NATO, 69% see it as essential to American security and 53% say it benefits the United States as well as the allies, while only 27% see it as mostly benefiting the allies. 59% agree there should be more burden sharing, but only 38% say the U.S. should make our security commitment contingent on that.

Some of these spreads are even greater than a year ago. The 69% support for NATO is up from 65% in 2016. On the general issue of maintaining alliances, the 47% support among Independents is higher than the 34% in 2016 and 26% in 2015, and the 43% among Republicans is up from 40% (2016) and 37% (2014).

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Where’s the Charlie’s Angels of global health?

Does the international community need a Charlie’s Angels of global health?

You remember Charlie’s Angels. Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Jaclyn Smith were three detectives in Los Angeles who worked for a never-seen Charlie. Charlie would call the Angels whenever there was some sort of emergency, and they would go wherever in the world in order to take care of the problem. They were highly competent and glamorous, though we can rightfully criticize the show for emphasizing the Angels’ sex appeal over their crime-fighting skills. I mostly remember the show for being on WGN in the afternoon when it wasn’t pre-empted by the Cubs. (Cubs baseball also frequently pre-empted Super Friends, leading to my distaste for the Cubs to this day…but that’s neither here nor there.)

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Mr. Trump, Choose Your Own Adventure

This post comes to us from Rupal N. Mehta, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an alumna of Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop and International Policy Summer Institute (Twitter @Rupal_N_Mehta); and Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark, Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bridging the Gap associate and alumna of the New Era Workshop (Twitter @RachelWhitlark).

In the coming days, President Trump is tasked with recertifying the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Obama Administration brokered this landmark agreement between Iran and core members of the international community (the P-5 plus Germany) to limit Iran’s nuclear program. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act mandates the U.S. president with recertifying Iranian compliance with the JPCOA every 90 days.

This week marks the two-year anniversary of implementation day, and it is not at all clear what course of action Trump is going to take. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve heard rumors from in and around the administration about what action is forthcoming, including an eerie warning about “the calm before the storm.” Domestic and international sources have said that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement and that the JCPOA should therefore be recertified. Conversely, foreign policy hawks and the President himself have argued for its unilateral rejection for reasons largely outside the scope of the JCPOA.

In what follows, we envision two possible worlds emerging from Trump’s decision point. In the first, Trump recertifies the JCPOA and the U.S. continues to uphold its end of the bargain. In the second, Trump decertifies and Congress re-imposes sanctions on Iran and effectively withdraws U.S. participation, thereby abrogating the deal. It’s worth thinking through the consequences of each of these worlds for international security, even as we will soon know which is most likely to transpire.

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National Security Generalists and Learning the Lessons From Lost Wars

A friend posted this piece on facebook: “Why Nerds Should Not Be In Charge of War.”  It draws from the new PBS Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to argue that it happened because of the prominent role played by “generalists.”  Yes, Robert McNamara and his gang of Whiz Kids are mighty arrogant, and they have much blame to share for the war.  Indeed, McNamara, unlike certain other arrogant former SecDefs, has spent the time since trying to grapple with what he had wrought.  There is something to the idea that we need folks involved who are regional experts.  Indeed, there has been much debate about whether we political scientists did area studies wrong by insisting on generalizable theory and advanced methods.

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You Are Fake News!

Yes, you have heard a lot about it. A German version of the ISA just featured a roundtable entitled: ‘Reclaiming the facts: analysis of international politics in the age of fake news and post-facts’. There has been a lot of panic over the new era of alternative facts.  Let me assure you: fake news and post facts are not new. Social networks are not new. We all have seen and read about them before. And they are not only as American as George Washington’s cherry tree. They are old and they are universal.

Here’s an example.

Once upon a time, there was a bankrupt opportunist from a notable family who urgently needed cash to pay his financier. No, he didn’t run to the Russian oligarchs (they were hard to reach at that point in time); instead, he decided to avoid the debt by killing his banker in the middle of 5th  avenue. When he was brought to court, his lawyer thought of a brilliant defense: instead of claiming that the accused was innocent, he went all the way to acknowledge the guilt of the criminal. The reason he killed the banker was allegedly his way to take revenge on the banker’s own nefarious deed of a child’s murder. The court was so baffled by this defense that the opportunist turned murderer walked free and the fake news about the boy’s murder assumed a life of its own. The year was 1150 and I am talking about the murder of William of Norwich, one of the first recorded accusations of ritual murder that still serves as an inspiration to Neo-Nazis and Anti-Semites around the world.

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Want to build support for ‘America First’? Try the UN.

Today’s Bridging the Gap contribution comes from Theo Milonopoulos, PhD Candidate at Columbia University and alumnus of our 2017 New Era Workshop

In an often combative speech before the United Nations General Assembly last month, President Trump at times praised, and other times disparaged, an institution he once dismissed via tweet as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Although few doubt the need for reform of an increasingly sclerotic institution, President Trump’s evident disdain for the United Nations is misplaced, not least because of its ability to bolster perhaps his most coveted asset: his popularity.

An original survey experiment I conducted just after the 2016 election shows Trump might actually benefit from working through the very institution he so frequently ridicules, particularly in galvanizing support for his policies among members of his own Republican Party.

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Teaching about Death and Violence: Thoughts from a Professor Who Calls Nevada Home

After the horrific attack in Las Vegas on Sunday, 1 October, the question of knowledge should be key to our understanding of this event. What do we know? What can we recall? The first thing that comes to mind is likely numbers, statistics, values attributed to life. We know now that the death toll is at 59. The injured number 527. The killer had 18 guns at his home. He shot from the 32nd floor at a rate of 400-800 rounds per minute (6-13 rounds per second). We know numbers.

Surely, this quantification of death gives us important information, but what does it do in regards to the way we relate to violence? Does it make us conceptualize mass shootings as just another data point, as a blip on a graph? Does it help us establish trends? My own experience with this shooting is different than most. I grew up in Las Vegas; I lived there for twenty years. My closest friends live there. Half of my family still lives there. Monday was a day of terror for me. Much of the day was spent texting or calling friends to make sure they were safe, seeing frantic posts on social media from friends trying to locate family that had not checked in yet.

My heart sank at seeing the news that someone I knew from my high school class was killed in the shooting.

Numbers could not capture my experience, or my friends’ experiences, or the experiences of the victims, the families, and onlookers. In a broader way, this raises an important question about how scholars in the fields of political studies, international studies, and cognate fields teach about death and violence.

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The Poverty of Style in IR

As one of the new Ducks, I will from now on be posting diversely on a range of topics including political violence, the status of critique in IR, and professional issues that will be of particular interest to early career scholars and PhD students. For my first post, however, I want to write about the style of writing IR and/or Political Science. This is something that has troubled me for some time now and on which – I think – I depart slightly from the mainstream view of things.

To begin, let me quote the author’s ‘style’ guidelines for the ISA journal International Studies Quarterly:

  • Favor short, declarative sentences. If it is possible to break up a sentence into constituent clauses, then you most likely should do so.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon. Define, either explicitly or contextually, necessary jargon.
  • Favor active voice, the simple past and present, and action verbs.

Favoring ‘clarity’ and ‘accessibility,’ the guidelines go onto state that “it is unreasonable to require readers and reviewers to read many pages into a manuscript before encountering its basic claims. It is unrealistic to expect that readers and reviewers are skilled in Kabbalah and therefore able to decode esoteric writing.”

These basic words of guidance are common across journals in IR and in the advice we give to our students, the reviews we write of articles, and the words we ourselves attempt to write. We seek to be clear. To the point. To report what we want to say and nothing more. This is the dominant ‘style’ of IR today.

I want to argue that the too-rigid enforcement of this Anglo-Saxon writing style creates problems for IR and – in fact – impoverishes its diversity, enjoyment, and ultimately its relevance to the world in several ways.

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Puerto Rico: What did the delay in the response to Hurricane Maria mean?

Last night, I tried to dig in and understand whether and how the response to Hurricane Maria was delayed. I wrote a Tweetstorm that I Storify-ed below. I wanted to see what evidence if any supported those claims and in what ways a swifter and larger response potentially could have addressed some of the specific problems that buffeted and continue to confront Puerto Rico.

In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen news reports from the Washington Post that criticized the president’s desultory response along with a plea for help from the Mayor of San Juan. President Trump, of course, responded in kind by attacking FakeNews and the Mayor of San Juan (because he’s an asshole). Leaving aside the president’s crass punching down, I think it’s a fair question to try to nail down what could and should have been done sooner. Former Obama disaster official Jeremy Konyndyk wrote a similar tweet thread as well.

Giving the administration the benefit of the doubt, it is true that coordinating logistics for Puerto Rico are harder than for the mainland for hurricanes Harvey and Irma given the distance. It’s also true that Puerto Rico occurred in the wake of those two storms in which FEMA resources were already stretched. It is also true that the extent of the devastation made distribution of aid on the island a real problem since many roads were impassable.

That said, Maria wasn’t a surprise. People knew well in advance that Puerto Rico was going to be hit by Maria and so decisions in the first days in terms of mobilizing ships, including the hospital ship Comfort and other naval assets that could have ferried troops and helicopters, were delayed by days. I think all of that has been consequential for speed of the response, especially compared to the mobilization after Harvey, Irma, Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake. Read on for more detail.

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Darkness Falls in Cambodia

This Bridging the Gap post is by BTG co-director Naazneen H. Barma, who also serves as Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Hun Sen, the longtime leader of Cambodia, has used almost every tool in the authoritarian playbook to consolidate his grip on power over the past three decades. Things came to a head early this month when one of Cambodia’s two premier English-language newspapers, The Cambodia Daily, was forced closed after being blindsided by the government with a $6 billion tax bill that it couldn’t possibly pay. Rendering an extraordinary confluence of dictatorial strategies, the newspaper’s final issue on September 4, 2017, headlined with the news of the midnight arrest of the leader of the country’s only real opposition party.

The Cambodia Daily, although a relatively young newspaper—started in 1993 under the civil society opening facilitated by the United Nations—turns out to have been the training ground for a number of prominent commentators on the political scene in Southeast Asia and beyond. Moving tributes to the paper and its tenacious role in Cambodia’s nascent and now troubled democracy have poured in. Julia Wallace captured beautifully how the newspaper’s aspirations and fate have mirrored those of the country’s politics.

The Cambodia Daily’s final issue fronted, as pictured above, with Kem Sokha, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, being led away from his home in handcuffs on charges of treason. This was only the latest move in the inexorable escalation of Hun Sen’s actions against his political foes. One major opponent after another has been swatted away with bribery, violent intimidation, and threats of exile. A once vibrant civil society scene, if still in its infancy, has been dulled to wary unease with similar tactics. Civilian protests about issues ranging from unfair working conditions in the country’s sweatshops to corrupt land grabs lining elite pockets and displacing the poor have been clamped down upon as Hun Sen inveighs against “color revolutions.” The Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have been silenced in the country; and the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute has been kicked out.

How did this happen in a nation that seemed one of the most promising harbingers of peace and liberal progress in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War? Sadly, the international community’s attempt at post-conflict peacebuilding in Cambodia is at least partly to blame. Continue reading

The Rise of the Trauma State: Afghanistan and America’s Unwinnable War

This is a guest post by Erik Goepner, a visiting research fellow at the Cato Institute. During his earlier military career, he commanded units in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently a doctoral candidate at George Mason University, and his main research interests include civil war, trauma, and terrorism.

Post-traumatic stress disorder afflicts 11 to 20 percent of U.S. military members after they serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. The military expends significant effort to provide them with needed care. Commanders move the psychologically injured out of the combat zone. Medical and mental health providers deliver needed aid. And, commanders may temporarily suspend individuals’ authority to bear firearms to minimize any threat they pose to themselves or others. For good reason: studies indicate that combat veteran status and PTSD associate with a two to three times increase in the risk of violence against others.

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What Just Happened in the German Elections?

This is a guest post by Hanna Kleideran assistant professor in the Department of International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is currently on a research leave at the European University Institute in Florence. Her main research interests are comparative politics and political economy, with an area focus on Europe.

Engaging in election punditry is a tricky enterprise – it requires a good understanding of the issues that irk voters and a sense for what might drive them to the polls. Even then, pundits often miss the mark. I, for one, seem to be particularly unqualified for election punditry, which is why I have more questions than answers after these elections. Take the catastrophic results for the German Social Democrats (SPD) for example: The Social Democrats have been responsible for the most influential social reforms in the last four years: they succeeded in introducing a minimum wage, they fought for a fairer inheritance tax, and they introduced a retirement reform – all of these reforms are important in an increasingly unequal Germany. Last but not least, the SPD brought about marriage equality. These changes were pushed through singlehandedly against the will of their senior coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (CDU) including Angela Merkel, who opposed every single one of these reforms (an inconvenient fact perhaps sometimes overlooked by Merkel’s liberal fans around the world). Yet, the SPD received only 20.5 percent of the vote, a historically bad result. In the former East German regions, the SPD is now the fourth strongest party after the CDU, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), and the Left party (Die Linke). Neither the current SPD campaign slogan “It’s time for more social justice!”, nor its 2013 campaign against “the centrifugal forces in society” gained much traction with German voters. Rising income and wealth inequality just did not drive as many voters to the ballot box as some observers, including myself, would have thought.

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Magic Lines and Escalate Ladders

A colleague asked me if there will be war between the US and North Korea.  I said maybe, which is pretty damned scary, given the likely consequences.  Why am I worried?  Basically for two reasons that intersect in bad ways, besides the Trumpiness and KJU-ness factors:

  1. the US seems awfully confident that they knew where the line is between what North Korea will perceive as an exercise and what NK will perceive as the start of an attack
  2. Escalation Ladders are finite.

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On Catalonia’s referendum: Groupthink and strategic essentialism as the enemies of democracy

Last Sunday, I was having a walk around the city centre of Cambridge when I saw a demonstration of around 50 people rallying for their right to vote in a referendum for independence from Spain. They were joining other demonstrations of Catalan separatists that took place all around Europe and in Spain on that same day. The Catalan government and a separatist majority in the regional parliament seek to organise a referendum on October 1st in order to decide whether Catalonia will become a republic independent from the rest of Spain. Non-separatists political parties oppose or criticize the referendum because they consider that it has been imposed unilaterally to half of the Catalan population that wishes to remain in Spain. Continue reading

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