Welcome to IR Theory and Practice!

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This blog is intended primarily for my students, though all are welcome.The material posted here is chosen because it provides more information about issues being discussed in class and/or illustrates theoretical arguments. In addition to being tagged by subject, posts are also therefore tagged by course number. The blog also provides links to other web sites (blogs, news magazines and think-tanks) that may be of interest. The last group of links, “Perspectives: Left Right and In-Between” are for web sites that take a clear ideological stand. No source is completely “neutral” or “objective”. However, these sites self-identify as promoting a particular political or ideological agenda. Whether you agree or disagree with their particular point of view, read them critically but also generously.
Comments have been turned off -at least for the time being. My hope is that we will talk about this material in class. For those who wish to be notified when new posts are published, there is a “Follow” button on the sidebar to the left.

Breaking with tradition, Trump skips president’s written intelligence report and relies on oral briefings -Washington Post

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“For much of the past year, President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President’s Daily Brief, a document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies from hot spots around the world.

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings.

Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The arrangement underscores Trump’s impatience with exhaustive classified documents that go to the commander in chief — material that he has said he prefers condensed as much as possible. But by not reading the daily briefing, the president could hamper his ability to respond to crises in the most effective manner, intelligence experts warned.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/breaking-with-tradition-trump-skips-presidents-written-intelligence-report-for-oral-briefings/2018/02/09/b7ba569e-0c52-11e8-95a5-c396801049ef_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-low_trumpbrief-1005am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.b7602a90fbcf

These 3 Everyday Products Show Who Won and Lost From Nafta -NYTimes

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The title of this article is a little misleading, it does not show so much who won or lost with NAFTA as much as it shows the complexities of trade and production within the agreement. Beer sold in Mexico brewed from grains grown in America. Jeans made cheaply in Mexico for American markets, but with American cotton. Bacon from pigs born in Canada but raised in the USA….  The author argues in the case of the jeans, that without NAFTA production would likely move to Asia. This may or may not turn out to be the case. It seems very hard to tell what would happen. But this is the main point. The arguments we usually hear about who wins or loses from trade agreements like NAFTA are superficial. Much of the trade and production involved in manufacturing is not obvious to consumers who only see the final product. And, the people who profit from it are not always as salient as the people who have been hurt by the changes created by NAFTA. In the United States, Donald Trump has played to the type of superficial understanding of trade this article exposes. In the UK, the Brexit campaign did too. This is not to say these deals are good or bad, just that they are complex.

 

What’s Behind Turkey’s Attack on Syria’s Kurds -NYTimes

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This article provides some basic background on the Turkish assault on Syrian Kurdish positions in the Afrin area of Syria North West of Aleppo.

“Mr. Erdogan fears that the Syrian Kurds would use control of much of northern Syria to support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the P.K.K., a separatist group that Turkey, the United States and the European Union all consider a terrorist group.

Here’s where things get complicated. The United States has armed a Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, that has played a crucial role in battling ISIS.

As the fight against ISIS nears an end, Turkey fears that the militia will turn its attention toward helping its Kurdish allies in Turkey. That fear is not entirely unjustified, according to Renad Mansour, a scholar at Chatham House in London, who points out that Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader imprisoned since 1999, was based in Kurdish Syria for nearly two decades.

Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Wilson Center who has studied the Syrian Kurds, says that many of them joined the Protection Units “for the simple reason that they wanted to defend their towns, like Kobani, that were under attack from the Islamic State, and not necessarily because they were convinced by the ideology of the P.K.K.”

Michael M. Gunter, a political scientist at Tennessee Tech who also studies the Syrian Kurds, said, “The Turks overplay the threat, but it’s not completely a figment of their imagination.”

 

See: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/world/middleeast/whats-behind-turkeys-attack-on-syrias-kurds.html?referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2F0K2P6MSeoe

WHY NO GENERAL SHOULD SERVE AS WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF -War on the Rocks

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Donald Trump has now been in office for one year. And, with Michael Wolff’s new book The Fire and the Fury coming out, it is worth looking back at a few older articles examining the changes in the White House staff since he took over. So, this is the first of several posts on the subject.

This post links to a discussion on War on the Rocks, and focuses on Trump’s reliance on military personnel (active and retired) for advisers. From the title, one can immediately deduce the article is not supportive. Here are the three reasons why relying on the military is problematic:

  1. First, having a retired general (Marine Gen. John Kelly as his chief of staff) serve in such an unabashedly partisan role further blurs the boundaries between the military and politics, and erodes the long-standing reputation of the U.S. military as an apolitical institution……..
  2. Second, Kelly’s appointment promotes the myth that military leaders are superior to civilian leaders. Healthy civil-military relations cannot rest upon a belief that when the nation is in trouble, calling upon military leaders to “take charge” in senior civilian roles is the best or only answer………
  3. The final danger of having Kelly (or any military leader) serve as White House chief of staff is that any major policy failure occurring on his watch would undermine the standing of the military, rightly or wrongly. Any such failure would inevitably lead to questions about Kelly’s judgment and fitness to serve…….

For the details of these arguments, see:

https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/why-no-general-should-serve-as-white-house-chief-of-staff/

 

See also: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/23/trump-is-tarnishing-the-military-brass/

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia Has No Idea How to Deal With Iran -New York Times

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I think the main point of the article is quite correct: the Saudis are playing a bad hand poorly.

There are a few points that I am not too sure about though. First, the author claims “The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame that country’s assertive regional policies has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back burner of international diplomacy.” However, Qatar is now closer to Iran than ever, and at a time when the Saudis needed to be building a durable anti-Iranian front, they have fractured the GCC. I don’t see this as successful, even if only relative to Riyadh’s other attempts to deal with Iran. In fact, I’m pretty sure Iran sees this as a win.

Second, the author warns that the war in Yemen may turn “the Houthi movement into something akin to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” Even if this is just be a turn of phrase, the Houthis-Iranian relationship is not comparable to Iran’s alliance with Hezbollah. The social/historical/religious connections are not there, and Iran’s military support for the Houthis has been limited.

Third, and finally, the author describes Saudi Arabia as “keen to reach out to Tehran despite provocative Iranian actions” and that “King Abdullah courted Presidents Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami”. This has not been the case. Riyadh has never been keen to court Iran. In fact, it’s been the other way around. Tehran has been the suitor, and Riyadh has played hard to get. Rafsanjani spent most of the 1990s trying to start a dialogue with Riyadh, only to be rebuffed. Before Rafsanjani’s death earlier this year, both he and Rouhani  reached-out to Riyadh, but again with no success. Rightly or wrongly, the Saudis’ strategy for dealing with Tehran has been to try to keep Iran as isolated in the Persian Gulf as possible. Given the regional situation post Arab-Spring, I doubt diplomacy would have worked, but I think the article mischaracterizes this part of their relationship.

A similar article was also published in Foreign Policy entitled, Tehran Is Winning the War for Control of the Middle East (https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/21/tehran-is-winning-the-war-for-control-of-the-middle-east-saudi-arabia/) and I expect there will be more in the near future claiming that the the Iranian-Saudi Cold war is swinging Tehran’s way. Some, like the one above, will cast Iran as the aggressor and the Saudis as the victim, albeit a clumsy self-destructive victim. Others will portray the Saudis as the belligerents and Iran as misunderstood. Both narratives have a grain of truth. But both miss the main point: the rivalry in its present form is being driven by the regional instability caused by the Arab Spring. Ideology and incompetence have only made things worse.

Saudi princes among dozens detained in ‘corruption’ purge -BBC

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Anti-corruption campaigns are a tried-and-true mechanism for dealing with opposition in authoritarian regimes. Perhaps the most notable example comes from the Assad regime in Syria during the 1970s. Hafez al-Assad used the tactic to clean house and build legitimacy. The purges allowed him to claim to be a champion of the people. More importantly, because corruption was endemic within the regime, everyone was potentially vulnerable. To a large degree the regime was built around corruption. Without oil money to distribute, the regime used government corruption as a form of patronage. Loyal officers and bureaucrats were given positions where they could extract bribes etc… as their reward. Therefore, almost be definition, if someone was in a position of authority, they were guilty of corruption. Assad could arrest anyone he wanted and everyone else was so terrified they made sure to toe the party line. After Hafez died, his son Basher repeated the exercise to ensure he would not be challenged by any of the old guard.
It should not be surprising then that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is launching a similar campaign. The Saudi political system is somewhat different from Syria’s but the logic of the anti-corruption game remains the same. Almost everyone is vulnerable, and those that escape are usually so relieved they don’t complain.
The initial public reaction has been positive, at least if the twitterverse can be trusted. However, there are a few things the King and Crown Prince should keep in mind. First, the regime is already going through a major transformation. The reforms instituted by the Crown Prince and his Father, King Salman, challenge the complex ruling formula that has held Saudi Arabia together since before the oil boom of the 1970s. As part of the Vision 2030 project, King Salmon and son are cutting back on government spending, privatizing parts of the national oil company, ARAMCO, and adopting an assertive and expensive new foreign policy posture in the region. Even gender roles are being challenged, with women being given the right to drive. The anti-corruption campaign is likely intended to preempt opposition to these changes. However, with so much happening the regime may be too fragile to withstand a major purge.

Second, the regime’s main strength has always been the cohesion of the royal family. Even before the oil boom, the main pillar of the regime was the al Saud itself. The logic was always simple: stay together or hang separately. Backing this logic up were a complex set of rules concerning succession and norms for governing within the family that smoothed out the rough edges and kept disputes to a minimum. However, by promoting the Crown Prince so quickly, the King has already violated most of these rules and norms. Moreover, Saudi specialist Joseph Kechichian suggests the intent is to “modernize the ruling establishment, not just for the 2030 horizon but beyond it too”.  If that is true, they may undermine the logic of maintaining cohesion may also be undermined. If the other members of the al Saud figure they are going to hang anyway, there may not be much incentive for them to stick together.

See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41874117

and

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests-crownprince-insight/a-house-divided-how-saudi-crown-prince-purged-royal-family-rivals-idUSKBN1DA23M

and

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/bin-salman-saudi-consensus-rule-171107052615928.html

and

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-arrests/future-saudi-king-tightens-grip-on-power-with-arrests-including-prince-alwaleed-idUSKBN1D506P

See also: https://iranonline.blog/2016/09/30/eight-unprecedented-hours-with-mr-everything-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-bloomberg/

 

Boys Are Not Defective –The Atlantic

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This article looks at an interesting development in the Middle East. Across the region, girls and young women do markedly better in school than boys and young men, even in the sciences.

  • “In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.”

The conclusion the article reaches is surprising. It questions the common assumption that Middle Eastern women succeed in education because their lives are controlled and distractions are minimized.  Rather than argue women study harder because they have nothing else to do, this article argues the problem may be in the quality of education boys and young men receive and the dynamics created by gender-segregated class-rooms

  • “…boys’ schools are more violent places, concluded the study, which was funded by USAID. Over half of the boys interviewed said they’d experienced some kind of bullying in school over the previous year. Only 11 percent of girls said the same thing. Two-thirds of male teachers said they’d witnessed physical violence among students in the past year—compared with less than a quarter of female teachers.”
  • Boys also reported worse relationships with their male teachers. Only 40 percent of male students interviewed said they believed their teachers cared about how well they did in school—compared with 74 percent of girls.” “…male teachers in all-boys schools were more likely to belittle or punish students for getting the wrong answer. And boys were much more likely than girls to complain about their male teachers’ tendencies to beat students and shout at them.”

Their explanation for this pattern was a mix of political economy and cultural norms:

  • “Teachers do not earn a lot of money in Jordan, but men are still expected to be the primary breadwinners in families. So male teachers are more likely to work second or third jobs as tutors or even taxi drivers in order to augment their small salaries. One Jordanian student told me about a male biology teacher he’d had who was so exhausted by his two other jobs that he used to close the blinds in first period and go to sleep.”
  • “On average Jordan’s male teachers—who have mostly gone through the same educational system themselves—do worse on the national entry test for teaching, according to Ministry of Education data. This suggests in turn that boys might be encountering less-prepared teachers on average. “Male teachers are hard to come by, and good male teachers are even harder,””
  • “The problem, Osman and his colleagues concluded, was not simply boys’ freedom or male teachers’ preparation. It was all that and more. Through surveys and other analysis, they identified a long list of factors that were interacting like a chemical equation, which is the unsexy secret about how education systems usually work. Not just teacher quality but students’ sense of safety, their study habits, and the subtleties of the boy and girl peer cultures all converge to create a healthy—or toxic—brew.”

Along the way, the article discusses the need to empower men: “We used to say, empowering women, and now we talk about empowering men,” Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, the undersecretary for education and curriculum in Oman, says. In patriarchal societies this may seem a bit whiny, but it’s not:

  • “Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.”

In the context of the Middle East, that disengagement one must wonder if it also leads to political radicalization…

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/09/boys-are-not-defective/540204/