August 4, 2016

After Trump

I am by no means certain that Donald Trump will lose in November. There are ample reasons why he should lose, but I also can see a handful of reasons why he could win. But if we assume, for the moment, that he does lose, what are the questions and likely consequences that follow?

  1. What happens to his millions of die-hard supporters? I tend to think Trump himself will move on to other matters rather than stay around to fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Will another leader try to fill the Trump slot and build on his approach?
  2. Trump has legitimized overt bigotry. Look, we were not in a post-racial America even before this campaign. But large segments of the US population have moved, over the last 50-75 years, away from normal acceptance of some important forms of overt discrimination. Trump brought it back into the mainstream. At best, I imagine people will have to re-fight the fight of de-legitimizing such overt bigotry. Even that raises two concerns a) not easy and b) wastes energy that could have been spent pushing for progress in other ways.
  3. Are the GOP leaders who bravely (sarcasm) stood by Trump forever tainted by their association with the Trump debacle? Let’s set aside for the moment whether  conservative GOP leaders aligned themselves with a ‘fake’ conservative. It is often the case that party leaders are significantly more, or less, conservative (or liberal) than the party presidential nominee. I am more interested in the question of his 1) bigotry and 2) impugning of the US military and those who served. (the late Humayun Khan; Sen. John McCain) The backlash is striking. Will leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forever be seen as having put narrow self-interest ahead of country and principle? We know they could have made another choice because lesser known GOP figures, e.g. Rep. Richard Hanna, have done so. (leaving aside the formers and the retireds like Bush, Bush, Bush, and Romney)
  4. Does the Republican Party blame this on Trump or on itself? If the former, I wonder whether the party will truly grapple with the aspects of the party that helped bolster Trump. Trump did not emerge from nowhere. OK, well he kind of did. But overt bigotry, especially toward Muslims, and trouble winning votes from people of color plays on covert bigotry (See dog whistling, law and order, or Lee Atwater) and years of trouble winning votes from people of color in presidential elections. [UPDATE: See this article for more on the Republican Party and its future.]
  5. Trump did not build this post-fact America where what he asserts is ‘true’ despite being false. But he sure eggs it on. Can we recover a sense of science, a sense of discourse built on evaluating claims and making some effort, even if not total, to agree on what the evidence is even if we continue to disagree about how to interpret it and which evidence to highlight? (I should defer to my colleague, Michael P. Lynch, on this question.)
  6. In 2020 and beyond, will we start to see more and more celebrity candidates? Is it about building a brand and then jumping in the national political fray? I do not quite have my finger on what defines a celebrity candidate, but it looks pretty different from a regular candidate or even an outsider like Ross Perot or Carly Fiorina. In short, to what extent has Trump, even if he loses, re-written the playbook for how to try to win the presidency? Or is this 2016 run just a blip?
  7. Does a President Clinton – remember, I am assuming for the sake of discussion that she wins – do anything to attack the economic bases of support for Trump? Trump’s answer is blame the foreigners, build a wall, talk tough, risk massive trade wars etc. I don’t see that as a part of a Clinton presidency. But Sen. Bernie Sanders had a different answer which was to use government to address some of the same societal inequities. One example is free higher education. That won’t happen either, but would a President Clinton try to use re-training, education, health care not tied to employment, and income redistribution policies to get at the economic grievances which, fairly or not, are often tied to globalization and trade deals? Or would these economic issues fester, as has been the case with the 1%/99% debate?

What questions or comments would you add?

June 19, 2015

The People Who Were Murdered: A Challenge to Colin @WNPR

I am issuing a challenge to a local talk show host on WNPR, Colin McEnroe:

How about a full show, 60 minutes, that is not about the lessons, the broader meaning, and the politics of the killings in S. Carolina. How about spending an hour on the nine people who were gunned down? Who they were, what they were like, what they did, who they loved and led, where they came from. Maybe, maybe, maybe if we get deep into the humanity that has just been stolen from our earth, we can start to break down the walls that prevent really grappling with race, guns, and murder.

April 15, 2013

Patriots’ Day

As a child of the Boston area, a word about Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. The day is now celebrated as a holiday in Massachusetts on the third Monday of April (thus Monday, April 15, 2013), and is based on April 19, 1775, the day the American Revolution started at Lexington and Concord, MA. Capt John Parker, leader of the Minutemen gathered on the Lexington green, is reported to have said, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

In the modern era the Massachusetts holiday includes reenactments of the first skirmishes (I still remember that President Gerald Ford and actual British regulars came to Lexington for the bicentennial year); a daytime Red Sox game; and the Boston Marathon. Growing up, it was always part of April school vacation week.

What a day it always was. Sadly, memories of marching Redcoats, pancake breakfasts, and Heartbreak Hill will now be joined by today’s tragedy.

April 11, 2013

Mideast Matrix

I now publish most of my posts over at Mideast Matrix. Check it out!

March 1, 2012

Misperceptions, Foreign Policy, and Iran

A new post at the Monkey Cage, co-authored with my colleague Stephen Benedict Dyson:

In an article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko rightfully draw attention to the way in which threats to U.S. national security appear overblown today. But because they understandably focus on demonstrating the relative safety of the United States, they do not give as much attention to research on the question of why threats get overblown. When they do turn to the cause, they underplay the central role of psychological factors.


February 7, 2012

“Will the US Restrain Israel on Iran? Unlikely”

I did a guest post over at the Monkey Cage: “Will the US Restrain Israel on Iran? Unlikely.”

February 7, 2012

Arab Spring, One Year Later

I did a Q & A on the one-year anniversary of the Arab uprisings.

January 27, 2012

Conference on Arab Uprisings, March 27 at UConn

If you are in the CT, New England, or NY area, come join us for a one-day conference at UConn in Storrs, CT:

“The Arab Uprisings and the Changing Global Order” (flyer)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Student Union 330 (Storrs, CT)

9:00 am — Opening remarks

Panel #1: Political Change in the Arab World
9:15 – 10:45 am

Issandr El Amrani, The Arabist
Eva Bellin, Brandeis University
Amaney Jamal, Princeton University

[coffee break]

Panel #2: Regional Dynamics
11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Robert Blecher, International Crisis Group
Gregory Gause, University of Vermont
Jillian Schwedler, University of Massachusetts

[lunch break]

Panel #3: The Uprisings and the United States
2:00 – 3:30 pm

Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
Sarah Kreps, Cornell University
Malik Mufti, Tufts University

[coffee break]

Panel #4: Concluding Roundtable
3:45 – 4:30 pm

Sponsored by the Alan R. Bennett Professor, CLAS, and POLS.
Co-sponsored by the Human Rights Institute and Middle Eastern Studies.

For questions, please contact


December 30, 2011

The Idea of American Exceptionalism & US Intervention

The push for a much more restrained US foreign policy, whether in the Middle East (as Gregory Gause argued) or around the world (as Stephen Walt would have it) makes eminent sense.  But if pundits and policymakers are serious about moving the United States in that direction, it is going to require challenging two core beliefs: American exceptionalism and conditional sovereignty. Without challenging these pillars of American interventionism run amok, any shift toward restraint will be shallow and temporary.

The rise of the United States as a global power may have come about because of economic might, technological innovation, and military prowess, but it has also been intimately linked to a can-do attitude and a perception of inherent superiority. While a realist might emphasize that growth in US material power and what the US can do (see Monteiro here), we need to recognize that it has been married to an ideational commitment to using that power. From the moment the colonists prevailed over the mighty British Empire, this was a country that could overcome great odds and re-make the world in its image. We are the city on a hill, the arsenal of democracy, the indispensable nation. The American way is the best way.

History seemed only to add further proof of American supremacy.  US forces crushed the native population and gathered the survivors in reservations. Territory, whether through war or dealmaking, led to the great expansion west – the Louisiana Purchase, Texas and the southwest, Alaska, and even faraway islands in the Pacific Ocean. Our doughboys helped turn the tide in WWI, and we vanquished Nazi Germany in WWII. With Europe in tatters, America saved the day with the Marshall Plan and NATO.  Just 20 years ago, the United States won the Cold War, a massive accomplishment. In short, history is seen as proving that American expansion and intervention was good, necessary, and effective.

For U.S. political candidates, the idea of questioning America’s ability to be number one, to effect change, and to influence others remains a risky strategy. For the GOP presidential candidates this year, it has been an attack line against President Barack Obama. In the 2008 campaign, one thinks of the brouhaha when Michelle Obama said, “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” Critics pounced because expressing doubt about the United States was seen as unacceptable.

Of course since the United States has been a full-fledged superpower, the record has slipped in a way that you might think would lead to the “judicious” use of the U.S. military that then Gov. George W. Bush preached during the 2000 campaign. The military struggled in Korea and then more so in Vietnam. After the seeming redemption of the first Gulf War in 1991, the last decade has brought back the questions; Iraq and Afghanistan were and are a difficult slog. On the economic front, the 1950s and 1960s gave way to energy crises and the rise of other economic powers, whether Japan in the 1980s or China and India today.

Now if we were strict about sovereignty, we might have a problem meddling in countless countries. So hand in hand with American exceptionalism has been a commitment to the conditional nature of sovereignty. If Washington feels it needs to intervene, it does.

To be fair, sovereignty is not an impenetrable roadblock. International law makes exceptions for genocide, for example, and R2P is carving a much larger hole in sovereignty. Moreover, if the United States gets multilateral, regional, and/or UN blessing for proposed meddling, the sovereignty question fades even more from the debate.

The problem is that violations of sovereignty may come with a heavy price, a price far worse than the initial benefits. The US invasion of Iraq created a political vacuum that al-Qaeda exploited to the detriment of Iraqis and Americans. What is blowback, after all, if not US meddling coming back to bite Washington? When the United States kills 24 Pakistani soldiers or when a US drone crashes in Iran, we should all recognize the fluid take on sovereignty that such incidents represent and worry about the future implications of such behavior.

Aggressive internationalism, whether of the neoconservative or liberal variety, relies on a belief in U.S. effectiveness, on a missionary zeal (nicely captured by Dominic Tierney), and on the ability to waltz into and out of countries. So if the grand strategy needs rethinking, it will not be enough to simply table an alternative built on humility and restraint. It is going to take a much deeper debate about how we see ourselves in relation to the rest of the world and whether we are willing to reformulate our ideas. Is that a debate our polarized political system is ready to have?



December 5, 2011

New post on Iran and US Foreign Policy

Over at Mideast Matrix, I posted on the recent explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility and set it within the larger context of Obama foreign policy.