Obama’s “Lack” of Strategy Towards ISIS

Obama’s “Lack” of Strategy Towards ISIS

by on 2014-08-30- Leave a reply

The last two days have seen a maelstrom of media attention to President Obama’s admission that he currently does not have a strategy for attacking or containing ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Syria.   It is no surprise that those on the right criticized Obama’s candid remarks, and it is equally not surprising that the left is attempting some sort of damage control, noting that perhaps the “no strategy” comment is really Obama holding his cards close to his chest.   What seems to be missing from any of the discussion is what exactly he meant by “strategy,”
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APSA Fire Update

APSA Fire Update

by on 2014-08-30- 1 Comment

Well, the main APSA hotel at the Marriott last night caught fire last night in what might be an act of arson, but we really don't know. For those of us staying at the Marriott, we awoke at 1am to alarms and recorded messages to evacuate the building. We stayed outside until around 4:30 or 5am when we were allowed to go back in to the lobby. Sheets were handed out, and people splayed out as you see in the picture above. Looked like we were going to be able to go back to the rooms at 6am but we
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In Exile at Home: Impressions from Europe

by on 2014-08-29- Leave a reply

I have been able to avoid this fate for almost 12 years now, but they finally got me. Being a citizen of Germany, I have been studying in the U.S. on student visas for the last decade and even though it has always been a bureaucratic nightmare, associated with significant financial costs, I usually managed to obtain the necessary documents to enter the United States. Until this summer, when the application for my work visa got delayed for reasons that I don’t need to get into here. Long story short, I had to leave the U.S. for three months, organize someone to sublet my apartment on very short notice, find an alternative source of income, new health insurance, cancel my attendance at APSA, etc. I had promised my daughter, who is staying with her mom in Ohio, that we would take at least two road trips during the summer (she wanted to go to New York City. “Why?” I asked. “Lady Liberty” she answered). Canceled. But hey, things could be worse. So, I decided to make the best of it and travel through Europe with Lise Herman, a Ph.D. candidate at LSE. In the next couple of posts I will report from our journey, tell you a bit about the mood in Europe, and touch some of the issues that the people, and especially the younger generation, are concerned or not concerned about.
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Why I’m Not At APSA This Labor Day

by on 2014-08-28- 9 Comments

changethedateEvery year at this time I receive several queries a day from colleagues, would-be colleagues and students asking me if I'll be "at APSA" - the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association - and when we could meet up for a coffee.

Every year I reply several times a day:

"Sadly, I won't be at APSA this year because it conflicts with the start of school for my children."

This is more or less the truth but I confess it's not the complete truth. First, I've realized this canned response implies I might be there next year, whereas I've actually been AWOL from Labor-Day-Weekend APSAs pretty much since my second child hit grade school and it's time I admit that's not changing. Second, the "conflict" I described is less of a conflict every year as my kids get older, yet I'm still not coming back to APSA, so that's less and less the real reason for my absence.

The truer response to the question is that I skip APSA every year not because my son needs me desperately on the first day of school, but because I'm boycotting. I'm boycotting my professional organization for scheduling a conference so as to inhibit work-life-balance and pose an undue burden on parents in the profession, especially mothers. I'm boycotting APSA because they have done this year by year over the protest of their members. What began as an irreconcilable personal conflict for a parent of grade schoolers and partner to a dual-career spouse - what began, that is, as a simple work-life balance choice - has turned over the years into a political statement that I'll continue to make until APSA's policy changes.
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Thursday APSA Linkage

Thursday APSA Linkage

by on 2014-08-28- Leave a reply

Many of your Ducks are descending upon DC for the annual APSA conference which is appropriately timed at the beginning of the academic year and the school year.  I know I have been looking forward to starting the semester completely shattered from slogging through revisions on papers. It's all the more pleasing when my two panels are scheduled at the exact same time in buildings that are miles apart! The fate of the petition to move APSA to another more reasonable date will apparently be discussed so we shall see.

While considerable international news is being made (Russia's new incursions into Ukraine, Obama's efforts to get a climate agreement without a treaty), in the spirit of APSA, we have a far more important task before us: academic navel-gazing. So, here are some links from around the web about how to annoy political scientists, how not to annoy your professors, the many mistakes people make in titling papers, and the Steven Salaita pre-emptive firing at Illinois.

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NATO: Silly Proposals and Enduring Realities

by on 2014-08-23- 2 Comments

I was going to post about my talk in Toronto on NATO , but now I have a slightly different NATO post to write: a response to this piece by Anne Applebaum proposing that Obama magically fix NATO.  Given that the title of my talk was “The Present and Future of NATO: More of the Same,” it is inevitable that I would be a skeptic of Applebaum's piece.  

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Meaningful Punishment

by on 2014-08-22- 4 Comments

Seeing reports in the New York Times today on further Russian aggression in Ukraine has me thinking about Ely Ratner and Elizabeth Rosenberg’s recent article entitled “Pointless Punishment?" where they argue that Western sanctions on Russia are at best pointless and at worst counterproductive. I think Ratner and Rosenberg (R&R henceforth) have a valid point in looking at the ways in which sanctions might produce unexpected negative consequences for the US. But also I think the events being reported today, and some other lines of analysis that they do not include in their article, suggest that not only is the
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Thursday Linkage

Thursday Linkage

by on 2014-08-21- 2 Comments

I saw this image on Twitter tonight and it kind of summarized how I feel about the news this summer which has been awful. I've been reading posts from thoughtful commentators like Steve Walt, Micah Zenko, and Jay Ulfelder who remind us that it's not all bad or at least it's not as bad as has been in the past (anybody remember World War II? [anyone] or perhaps even the early post-Cold War was as bad as it right now).

Still, from Ukraine to Ferguson to ISIS in Iraq/Syria to Gaza to Ebola, this has been one shitty summer for news and also nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing. I think the current security threats are making many IR security folks feel as uneasy as the IPE folks felt during the 2008 recession. Since I kind of straddle different worlds, I worried then and I worry now.

In the midst of all this, we've at least had a ray of lightness and kindness which is the viral "IceBucket Challenge." I know some have scoffed at this act of slacktivism, but awareness and fundraising for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) has gone way up. So, I say go out and dump ice on your head and donate money to a good cause. Relax, hug and kiss your kids, and let's hope cooler heads around the world prevail. F--k bad news. Some links below that capture some of the rough news.
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Ferguson and American Foreign Policy

by on 2014-08-16- Leave a reply

I see a connection between what is happening in Ferguson, the now roiling suburb of St. Louis, and American security policy. An odd connection to make at first glance, but stay with me. In the context of the important questions of institutionalized violence and race relations, it can be easy to overlook the ways in which how the US thinks about security policy are shaping the events on the ground. Let us start first with the most concrete or optical of influences, the equipment the police are using. As dozens of news outlets have reported, it is no coincidence that
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Thursday Linkage

Thursday Linkage

by on 2014-08-14- Leave a reply

Potpourri this week with Micah Zenko on the tendency for mission creep in humanitarian interventions and other U.S. military missions, Marc Lynch pushing back on whether arming the Syria rebels would have worked, story on ISIS' capture of the Mosul Dam and an interesting twist on water and security challenges, bad air in China (I'm shocked) and the challenges the country is finding tapping its shale gas reserves, and, finally, why the lead Sierra Leone doctor fighting Ebola didn't get the experiment treatment.
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Thinking About Governments and Violence

by on 2014-08-14- 1 Comment

I got into an extended twitter discussion about the 1992 LA riots.  Why?  Because that event helped to inform much of my thinking about ethnic conflict and because I see in Ferguson some key similarities despite the on-going events being about police aout of control rather than riots.  How so?

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Monstermind or the Doomsday Machine? Autonomous Cyberwarfare

Monstermind or the Doomsday Machine? Autonomous Cyberwarfare

by on 2014-08-13- Leave a reply

Today in Wired magazine, James Bamford published a seven-page story and interview with Edward Snowden. The interview is another unique look into the life and motivations of one of America’s most (in)famous whistleblowers; it is also another step in revealing the depth and technological capacity of the National Security Agency (NSA) to wage cyberwar. What is most disturbing about today’s revelations is not merely what it entails from a privacy perspective, which is certainly important, but from an international legal and moral perspective.   Snowden tells us that the NSA is utilizing a program called “Monstermind.” Monstermind automatically hunts “for the
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Friday Nerd Blogging: Stata and Death

by on 2014-08-08- Leave a reply

Fun post that sorts the patterns of life and death in Westeros and beyond.

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The Politics of Artificial Intelligence and Automation

The Politics of Artificial Intelligence and Automation

by on 2014-08-07- 1 Comment

The Pew Research Internet Project released a report yesterday, “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” where it describes a bit of a contradictory vision: the future is bright and the future is bleak. The survey, issued to a nonrandomized group of “experts” in the technology industry and academia, asked particular questions about the future impacts of robotic and artificial intelligence advances. What gained the most attention from the report is the contradictory findings on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation on jobs.

According to Pew, 48% of respondents feel that by 2025 AI and robotic devices will
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Thursday Morning Linkage: Ebola Edition

Thursday Morning Linkage: Ebola Edition

by on 2014-08-07- 2 Comments

The death total of the Ebola viral outbreak in West Africa now exceeds 900, leading the World Health Organization to declare it a "global health emergency." Urbanization and weak states in the region, coupled with rural practices of bush meat consumption, appear to be some of the problematic drivers of the epidemic. Local populations skepticism of health workers and attachment to traditional practices of care and burial are making the situation worse. The army is being deployed in Liberia to contain the spread and be able to enforce quarantine policies. The potential spread to Nigeria by a Liberia American official is especially worrisome.

Ebola spreads only through bodily fluids (i.e. saliva, urine, blood) and appears to have a low transmission rate (1 to 1.5 people per infected person on average) but high lethality (killing about 70% of those it infects). At present, there is no vaccine or treatment, other than palliative care, though there are some promising possible therapies. Two American aid workers who were infected received an experimental treatment and appear to be on the mend. They are now back in the United States for continued care, which has spurred a spate of public and media interest and irrational fear. In the midst of this crisis, the weakness of the international community, the World Health Organization in particular, loom large. It's unclear if the topic will be added to the margins of the agenda of the on-going African leaders summit in Washington. Links below.

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Civic Action at a Federal Detention Center

by on 2014-08-05- 4 Comments

About two weeks ago I had pledged to go on blogging hiatus in order to vacation with my family, a pledge I only broke once so far. However, while traveling south from Durango, CO with my partner and son last week, I ran across this post by LGM’s Erik Loomis,’ on the treatment of Central American refugees in US facilities north of the Mexican border. I also read the entire linked document by Wendy Cervantes, an Immigration and Child Rights expert First Focus – one of several NGOs who were permitted to tour the facility in Artesia, New Mexico, the previous week. I also found other sources on the subject including this, this, this, and this.

All these articles point to overcrowding and the absence of adequate medical care and legal representation for these families, as well as the wider problem of what international lawyers call “refoulement” – forcible return of asylum seekers who likely face persecution or violence in their home country. This is of course a violation of the Refugees Convention, which requires governments to accept and aid individuals fleeing their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution should they return; and which prohibits them from forcibly returning such people or prosecuting them as illegal immigrants.*

Our route by car from Albuquerque to Roswell / Carlsbad took us directly past Artesia. It seemed wrong to carry on cavorting through limestone caves and UFO museums knowing we were driving right by a facility where refugee women and children were being held, allegedly without adequate supplies. So we decided to make a brief detour and see what would happen if we drove up to the base asking questions and offering help. Our primary objective was to obtain an audience with someone, anyone, in a position to receive feedback from some concerned citizens about the fate of the refugees.
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Jus Ex Bello in Gaza

Jus Ex Bello in Gaza

by on 2014-08-04- 3 Comments

The New York Times recently reported that unidentified Israeli officials claimed that Israel is looking to unilaterally end the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. After more than 1800 Palestinian casualties in three weeks of fighting, international pressure to cease hostilities appears to be working. However, this strategy of the “silent treatment,” rather than a negotiated settlement may not be right course of action. In fact, there may be no morally right way forward, given the complexity of this case.

The anonymous Israeli officials told the Times that they did not want to “reward” Hamas with negotiations or a ceasefire. Thus Israel would merely wind down operations, since it has destroyed many of the tunnels it claimed were its primary objectives. The logic, reportedly, is that officials hope that a slow truce will take hold, as it did after hostilities in 2009.
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The Cost of Spying

by on 2014-08-02- 7 Comments

As my first official post as a guest contributor to the Duck, I would like to take a moment to thank Charli, Jon, and the gang. This really is an honor and a privilege for me, and hopefully my posts will live up to the Duck’s high standard!

There has been no lack of coverage in the United States regarding the National Security Agency’s spying activities. My sense, however, is that the focus in the media and by politicians has largely been on the domestic political implications of the NSA dragnet. The Obama administration has gone to great pains to
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Thursday Linkage: The Future of Israel edition

Thursday Linkage: The Future of Israel edition

by on 2014-07-31- 5 Comments

In the wake of the latest Gaza military intervention by the Israeli government, the liberal Jewish diaspora appears to be coalescing quite significantly around the view that, as awful as Hamas' rockets and ideology are, the current Israeli government's actions in Gaza are immoral and unwise.

I start with a link to celebrated Israeli writer David Grossman and a column he wrote for the Times. From the Jewish diaspora, there are important pieces this week by Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, Peter Beinart, Michael Walzer, Mira Sucharov, Roger Cohen, Jonathan Freedland, Sam Sussman, and Adam Dembowitz that echo aspects of this perspective. They go beyond the current military campaign to talk about the occupation, settlements, and the ways that the current Israeli government has undermined Palestinian moderates and made a two-state solution less likely. Links and extracts below, plus a re-up of a Tony Judt piece.   
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“Zen” and U.S. Foreign Policy in A Time of Disquiet

“Zen” and U.S. Foreign Policy in A Time of Disquiet

by on 2014-07-28- 3 Comments

What with Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, and other events, this has been an awful few weeks/months for international news and is a profound challenge to the world community, such as it is, and, if you are care about this sort of thing, U.S. foreign policy. While similar screeds from John McCain and Dick Cheney are likely to be dismissed as partisan hyperbole, Fred Hiatt in today's Washington Post lambastes the Obama Administration for its failures and may be harder to waive off summarily. He compares Obama's foreign policy to a natural experiment in disengagement and suggests the results have been a disaster, as the U.S. missed the occasion to cement a democratic transition in the Middle East and rivals have taken advantage of the U.S. retreat:

Obama’s determination to gear down in Europe and the Middle East, regardless of circumstances, guaranteed that the United States would not respond strategically to new opportunities (the Arab Spring) or dangers (Putin’s determination to redraw the map of Europe).

[As an aside, Hiatt's blast echoes the critique from the left by Peter Beinart on Obama's Iraq policy, which he describes as having allowed Maliki to run roughshod over Sunni Muslims, with administration policy driven by a desire to have Iraq off the front pages in time for the 2012 election.]

I think both Hiatt and Beinart raise fundamental questions about U.S. agency to shape the world in its image.
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