Russophobia or Measured Opposition?

Stephen Cohen and IR legend, John Mearsheimer recently did a fascinating Vice video purporting to debunk and challenge purportedly widespread opposition to Russia and Russian interference. I wanted to add my thoughts and respond to their arguments. While the premise of the video is purposefully inflammatory and cheeky (granted as Josh Zakharov put it, “Mearsheimer has made a career out of being spicy,”) their arguments are reasonable and sound—they merit debating. Despite the fact that Mearsheimer and Cohen are right on their broad foreign policy points, they fundamentally misunderstand and mischaracterize the domestic opposition to Russia in the status quo.


Mearsheimer & Cohen’s Argument

1) Critical Assumption: Russian foreign policy is best understood through the lens of offensive realism (more or less). Consequently, states seek to dominate and attain regional hegemony in order to ensure security. Thus, so-called Russian “aggression” in Crimea is actually driven by a sympathetic self-preservation. If Russia formed an alliance with or annexed Mexico and Canada, we would be threatened and we would expect the President to respond aggressively to those threats. In my opinion, a better example is the clear historical parallel to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Soviets (*cough* Russians) park missiles right next to us. We were, and would be scared—and reasonably so. Thus, the United States’ and EU’s attempts to court Ukraine and integrate it into the West was seen as really threatening.

3) Prevailing view in 2010: integrating Ukraine (militarily, diplomatically, ideationally, and economically) into the West is a major foreign policy goal of the United States and its Western Allies—through EU, via the Associative Agreement, and through NATO…you render Russia a weak regional actor. It may have ‘weakened’ Russia but it emboldened it. Weak regional actors lose out on the world stage and that comes with political consequences at home. Narrative of Putin defending Russia against the threatening West and United States is very good for maintaining the political support needed for a quasi-authoritarian/super-presidential regime.

4) The annex of Crimea secure Sevastopol and naval access to the Black Sea (plus affirms and plays into the narrative that Crimea was essentially Russian…plus ethnic Russians angry at the Kievan government which has been antagonistic to them, their language and their heritage will be open to Russian control/annexation). Moreover, Russian funded insurgency in the Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) provides a new buffer between the West and Russia and weakens the Ukrainian state. Also, support for the Maidan is seen as destabilizing and threatening to Russia’s internal order, promoting dissent and political chaos. It certainly threatens the prevailing regime in Russia.

The argument hinges on how you understand and perceive Russia, on which narrative you subscribe to. Is Russia a) a threatened and vulnerable state that feels perpetually threatened by the West, the encroachment of NATO (bringing in the Baltic states, threatening sovereignty and Article 2(4) in Bosnia/Kosovo) or   b) a revanchist power trying to reclaim its imperial status that is inherently aggressive and expansionist?

Initial Perspective:

I honestly agree with and will grant Cohen and Mearsheimer their view of Russia (that of (a) above, because its fits the empirical reality more closely.

  • Russia has remained deeply suspicious of NATO. Moscow has always viewed NATO expansion as a step against Russia and a betrayal of the terms of the end of the cold war. Putin literally says exactly this in a speech to the Russian Foreign Service Corps.

    NATO made specific membership commitment to Georgia and Ukraine and worked with them to devise a path to membership and the Russian-Georgian War heightened this suspicion.

  • Russia’s believes that U.S. promotion of democracy and liberal values in post-Soviet states is a deliberate strategy to undermine the Russian Federation’s political structure.

The Euromaidan and “Color Revolutions” are seen as an existential threats, not just to themselves but also to the nations that border them. However, the Russian foreign policy establishment believes that “no major power walks alone.” In the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war, Russia declared its neighboring states a zone of Russia’s privileged interests. It sees these surrounding states as potential regional allies, quasi-imperial subjects, but most importantly, critical to Russia’s security.

  • Putin announced to the Foreign Ministry personnel in July 2014 that “the events in Ukraine are the concentrated expression of the policy of containing Russia.”

    Eurasian integration was intended to provide Russia with an added measure of security against perceived Western encroachment, as well as a political move to enhance Russia’s standing. Ukraine was the most important target of the integration policy. Finally, a publicized telephone call between two U.S. officials during that time period, evaluating potential composition of Ukrainian government, fueled Russian suspicions and confirmed this world view.

Further Responses

Even if we grant Cohen and Mearsheimer their basic premise, their understanding of Russia as a state and Putin as a leader, questions remain. First, as the interviewer brought up, there is a moral dimension. Shouldn’t it be the people of Ukraine who decide whether they align with Russia or with the West.

  • Possible rebuttal: that doesn’t remove responsibility from the U.S. or the EU for making the offer in the first place.

  • Rebuttal offered by Cohen and Mearsheimer in video: international political decisions are made by world leaders acting in the interest of the survival of their states, it is not made by the whim of the people, nor should it be.

Except, foreign policy (specifically in the case of the Ukraine Crisis) was made by the people, directly contradicting this claim. Ukrainian politicians were playing (or were at least subject to) a two-level game.When Yanukovych decided to align with Russia and accept their economic package (and reject the AA and DCFTA after indicating that he would accept them), the protests that ejected him from office and ultimately elevated Poroshenko decided Ukraine’s foreign policy. An act which triggered the invasion of Crimea.

  • Another rebuttal (presumably from Mearsheimer): Morality has no place in politics or foreign policy.

Then don’t be so moralizing. Your essential point is that the US made a poor strategic decision and Russia made a reasonable strategic response that the foreign policy establishment should have predicted. But the opposition to Russia is primarily moral. They would probably agree with your fundamental that power and interests drive politics, they would disagree with you as to whether we should take that lying down.

In other words, your descriptive claim is sound, your philosophical one is wanting.

One can also agree that the U.S. is responsible (at least, strategically) for Ukraine and the result of bad foreign policy decision-making…and still bear animus towards Russia (but not necessarily have that be directly reflected in their foreign policy.

  • Rebuttal: but opposition is so wrapped up in claims of interference and the encroachment of an expansionist power! This is dangerous and needs to be stopped.

This is probably only true for a select few members of the Republican Foreign Policy Establishment. Maybe this is your audience, but it paints a disingenuous vision of opposition to Russia. Plus this is an interview with Vice, you really think the people who really disagree with you are watching Vice News every night?

The whole point of this piece and what justifies your appearance is your claim that Russophobia is rampant amongst the people and that this belief could be weaponized to justify strategically unwise conflict against the Russian Federation. Wait a second! I thought the people don’t make foreign policy! Which is it now… You’re (presumably) adopting a systems-level theory of politics to understand international relations and grand strategy, but your participation in this piece and concern for the state of public opinion verges on endorsing a liberal conception of international relations. After all, you (Mearsheimer) did do a similar thing, in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.

  • Further rebuttal: though Realism adopts a billiard-ball/black box view of the state in the interests of theoretical parsimony, the notion of ‘domestic politics’ mattering is not in conflict or at odds with fundamental realist premises.

Then why endorse it in one case and not the other?! Decrying the very suggestion that peoples and populations have influence over foreign policy decision making in the first instance and implicitly endorsing it in the second instance is contradictory. At the very least it deserves expanding upon.

  • Further further rebuttal: the type of domestic structure matters. The U.S.’s political system functions dramatically different than the “Pluralism-by-Default” of Ukraine.

See the analysis of the domestic origins of the Ukraine crisis above. (Also, Cohen & Mearsheimer are certainly not making this argument…)

At the end of the day, your understanding of domestic opposition to Russia and Russian interference seems misguided. In my experience, many people may be very passionate about the issue of electoral interference but that passion rarely translates into an endorsement of an aggressive foreign policy abroad. Indeed, many of these #resistors were profoundly shaped by or came of political age during the Iraq War and remain fundamentally opposed to an assertive U.S Foreign Policy. Moreover, there are a plethora of reasons to be principally opposed to Russia without endorsing, say, regime change or war.

You can be angry about 1) Russian electoral interference (strategically, ambivalence and inaction corrodes the fundamental norms of our democracy) 2) General opposition to authoritarianism and injustice 3) Repression of LGBTQ+ peoples and other marginalized communities 4) murdering political opponents and 5) jailing and silencing journalists. 5) enshrining domestic violence as a “cultural tradition.” These are all very valid reasons for being less than happy with Russia and Putin’s regime that are completely separate from Russian foreign policy as traditionally understood.


Mission Accomplished Redux: Back 2 Iraq (and Syria)


Following the effective liberation of al-Raqqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces (and the recapture of Hawija, ISIS’ last urban stronghold in Iraq, by government forces), many have been quick to proclaim total victory over the Islamic State, who once called the city its capital. ISIL has gone the way of the Ummayads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and other caliphates: into the proverbial dustbin of history. Yet, what does that mean? Certainly, the recapture of Raqqa and ouster of ISIL forces (as well as the rapid decline in territory inflicted over the last few months), signals the death of ISIS as a geographically-inscribed, territory-controlling pseudo-polity. But ISIL is (or, was, rather) at the same time a pseudo-state, an insurgency, and a global terrorist organization. Indeed, in the popular American consciousness, ISIL tends to be seen as an international terrorist threat first, and a geopolitical actor second. Therefore, if the notion of “victory”, makes us complacent to the continued challenges we face in the region, we should abandon it altogether. The recapture of al-Raqqa is a blow struck to only one of the many faces of ISILS.

We should not have any illusions that the destruction of the Islamic State will dramatically impact their ability to enable, coordinate, and encourage terror attacks around the globe. Though, it bears mentioning, though, that (obviously) the recapture of Raqqa will not particularly do ISIL any favors. ISIL accrued so much support and managed to attract thousands of fighters to its cause because of its stupendously successful summer 2014 offensive. Truly, nothing succeeds like success. As sure as it is a proto-state, it is also a global terror brand. Why else would Boko Haram, embroiled in a conflict around 3,000 miles[1] from ISIL, affiliate themselves with ISIL if not for what ISIL symbolized and projected to the whole world. The loss of Raqqa is thus certainly bad for ISIS in this regard, and might impair its ability to inspire and carry out terror attacks. However, their dramatic loss of territory over the last two years or so unfortunately has not engendered a substantial decline in ISIL’s activity qua terrorist group. This casts doubt on the extent to which their military losses might translate into counterrorism gains. Moreover, it is likely that, as the Atlantic put in last March, “The Idea of ISIS will outlive the Caliphate.” Stripped of territory and even of prestige, ISIL might still live on in the hearts and minds of its fighters and most fervent devotees. As Jean-Marc Rickli of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy told The Independent, “for Isis to remain relevant they have to hit the headlines, so it will go after easier and softer targets…what we’re witnessing is an increase in the number of attacks in the West…the destruction of Isis in Syria and Iraq will probably increase this phenomenon, not only in the West but in Asia.” This is not to say that ISIS will grow stronger, but as Dan Byman put it, “there are many reasons not to buy fear mongers’ arguments that the Islamic State will win by losing. But a more lasting victory will require following up on the military campaign and resolving new problems that the Islamic State may attempt to exploit.”

Not only does the victory of the SDF in al-Raqqa have questionable impact on their threat as a terror organization, further complications abound like the reconstruction of cities absolutely decimated by the counter-offensive against ISIL. ISIL may not control it anymore, but Raqqa lies in absolute ruin. Moreover, many analysts have long predicted an increasingly empowered al-Qaeda benefiting greatly from ISIL’s decline. Others have more dire predictions: Christopher Meserole of Brookings maintains that, “we’ll likely witness either a resurgent al-Qaeda or a virulent Islamic State insurgency—or, in the worst-case scenario, both,” in an article in which he describes how al-Qaeda is actively recruiting ISIL fighters. To conclude briefly, we ought not be overeager sound the death knell of ISIL too early, especially if it will make us complacent towards emerging threats and challenges in the region.


[1] (and this is a very rough estimate)

Here Fishy Fishy…

How the territorial dispute in the South China Sea is all about fish, and what that tells us about world order and American foreign policy.

           A nuclear-aspirant North Korean lobbing No Dongs into the Sea of Japan, Vladimir Putin’s Russia testing the willingness of the self-appointed custodians of the post-Cold War settlement to defend it, and the inescapable imperative to implement an international agreement that halts the progression of climate change—clearly, the United States faces a plethora of foreign policy challenges in the status quo; it is not with a single great threat with which the United States must contend but a whole slew of problems that each impel action. So one must ask—what are the nature of these problems?  Are there higher-order commonalities between them that may inform our grand strategy?

To answer these questions, we ought to look to the Pacific, most specifically to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. This conflict is emblematic of the type of international issue that presents the greatest challenge to the United States. On one hand, China seeks to expands its territory, through force and, well, semi-clever island building.  It’s a zero-sum conflict between regional actors, resembling the traditional geopolitics of yore—an exercise of power in the name of self-interest at the expense of other states. In this matter, one might say it cleanly fits a neorealist model.

Yet, at the same time the South China Sea is the site of a separate but interrelated problem: overfishing, illegal fishing, and—as a result— declining fish stocks.  Fishing is a core component of the Chinese economy, accounting for 3 percent of GDP and employing ~8 million fishermen.[1] As coastal stocks have dwindled, Chinese fisherman have moved into contested water to compete with the fishing industries of several other nations. As a consequence, fishing has been conducted at an alarmingly unsustainable rate—fish stocks have declined from 95% of their 1950s levels, and might soon be exhausted due to illegal fishing. Furthermore, the decline of fish stocks has severe regional implications—the average person in China and South East Asia consumes a remarkably large amount of fish, around 24.2 kilograms of fish a year, and fishing is a massive component of regional economies.[2] It merits, then, to pose the central question of how regional governance of common pool resources can be established for the fisheries of the South China Seas? This is a question of both international and regional import given that regional food shock may have significant consequences on international food prices and contribute to regional instability. Indeed, as the example of the Syrian refugee crisis highlights, regional problems no longer have strictly regional consequences.

The example of territorial disputes in the South China Sea has two fundamental strategic dimensions: a quasi-realist imperative to balance China and protect the international order, and the neoliberal necessity of inviting China to the negotiating table as a necessary stakeholder in the fish stocks of the South China Sea. The second imperative is as important as the first— without Chinese cooperation, the US simply does not have the power, nor the mandate to prevent Chinese illegal fishing. Without a permanent resolution that all stakeholders assent to, the only potential Nash equilibrium, to borrow from game theory, that could result will be either total control on the fish stocks by one or more states to the exclusion of others or instability and infighting that leads to the depletion of the fish stocks entirely. In both cases, conflict is likely to erupt as dwindling resources provoke even more aggressive competition that, in turn, reduces fishery capacity even further.  The situation necessitates, then, the implementation of some sort of multilateral diplomatic settlement like a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) that has proved effected elsewhere at managing fish stocks. Yet a necessary precondition for regional cooperation of this nature is the external balancing of Chinese aggression and provocation in the South China Sea.

This type of challenge—which require both an oppositional relationship in one respect but a cooperative one in another characterizes many of the international strategic challenges the US faces in the status quo. For example, the U.S vehemently opposes Russia’s territorial ambitions vis a vis Crimea and its military support of Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria. Yet, the United States must cooperate and cooperates with Russia on several other fronts: counter-terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, space exploration, counter-narcotics efforts, climate change, combating piracy, and scientific advancement—just to name a few. It would not be within the U.S’ best interest to simply abandon cooperation in these mutually beneficial areas due to Russia’s revanchist tendencies.

All this shows that a ‘flat’ word characterized by interdependence and interconnectedness ensures that regional challenges have international implications; the proliferation of global challenges that necessitate collective action demand a strategic emphasis on multilateral cooperation and international institutions. The greatest long term threats to global order all necessitate such internationally coordinated responses: climate change, global health crises, and nuclear proliferation. The international network of institutions and agreements that constitute the ‘international order’ all help to facilitate global cooperation through dialogue, reduced transaction costs, international norm creation, economies of scale, and massive efficiency gains. Thus, challenges to the international order must be met with appropriate resistance, yet the United States must cooperate with those same revisionist actors on matters of mutual interest. Truly, the greatest foreign policy challenge the United States faces is the question of structuring a grand strategy that considers these twin, perhaps antagonistic imperatives.



A Conversation with Dr. David Priess

By MEGHAN BODETTE || September 16, 2016

The Global Conversations project is a Popular Discourse initiative to bring together voices from various countries, backgrounds, and areas of expertise to discuss issues that matter. This week, we are fortunate enough to bring you a conversation with Dr. David Priess, a former CIA officer during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  Dr. Priess is also the author of The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Daily Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama. The book lays out the history of the President’s daily intelligence brief through interviews with former Presidents, Vice Presidents, CIA directors, national security advisers, secretaries of state and defense, and other relevant personnel.

Dr. David Priess

Popular Discourse: Your book, The President’s Book of Secrets, tells the story of the President’s daily intelligence brief. What fact or anecdote in the book do you find most interesting?

David Priess: While some serious documentary research went into this book, the interviews with former president and vice presidents and others were most revealing.

I expected to find plenty of examples of presidents and other top officials getting real insight from their daily book of secrets–things that helped them make some of the toughest national security decisions this country has faced. And those examples showed up, for sure.

But you asked for the most interesting anecdotes, and most of those had to do with less serious moments. Two stand out.

First, when George H.W. Bush was president. You have to remember–he’d been CIA director, he’d been vice president for eight years … so he was no stranger to intelligence. Maybe that’s why he was so comfortable with his daily intelligence briefers, willing to have not only no-kidding serious conversation with them about the highly classified information in the PDB but also some fun moments. Like the time his CIA briefer conveyed the analysts’ assessment that the incumbent would win an election in Nicaragua. President Bush added it up differently, and he offered a wager to the CIA briefer that the analysis was wrong. It was–the challenger won, as Bush predicted–and the briefer brought an ice cream cone to the Oval Office to pay up.

Second, when Bill Clinton was president. He was surprised on his 50th birthday to open up his PDB and start reading about crisis after crisis around the world, all caused by things that he had said and done in the preceding days and weeks. It took him a few articles in the book before he realized they were pulling his leg, having a little fun with him.

I like those examples because they show that this very serious business of providing classified intelligence analysis to the president remains a very personal process, with real personalities and real human moments.

PD: How has the intelligence community adapted to technological and political changes since the administrations in which you served? Has it adapted well?

DP: Much has been written elsewhere about the expanded flow of information to analysts, especially in the realm of social media. I’ll focus instead on a narrower topic: the delivery of daily intelligence analysis to top customers.

Between administrations, and within each one, the intelligence community adapts to the needs of its customers and to the personality of its First Customer, the president of the United States. These adjustments have traditionally succeeded when built on a foundation of solid communication between intelligence officers and the recipients of their products. Absent a robust relationship, those changes become guesswork.

The biggest change with the President’s Daily Brief itself involves the medium of delivery. For decades–since the CIA started producing it for Lyndon Johnson in 1964–the PDB has been page after page of Top Secret intelligence assessments printed in a book. The format of that book has changed, but it’s been ink on paper.

But not anymore. President Obama gets his PDB, now from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on an iPad. The PDB still contains analysis of various international issues based on all-source intelligence, but the new format allows for variations like embedded multimedia presentations that can enhance impact.

PD: What, in your analysis, is the best way of delivering daily intelligence to the president and other top policymakers?

DP: There may not be one best way. We have to remember–no one gets to the presidency or another top-level office without figuring out what learning style works best for him or her. And these folks have no shortage of advisers to help them get the most out of their time. The preferences of each president or other senior officer should drive how he or she receives daily intelligence analysis.

That said, even as an avid reader myself, I find it hard to see how the full benefit of daily intelligence can be captured without in-person briefings. A president or other senior official forgoing such briefings increases the chances that a senior adviser who is not intimately familiar with the nuances of intelligence will skew the information–deliberately or inadvertently–or otherwise prevent an objective assessment of the facts on the ground from reaching that official. Any risks arising from the direct contact between intelligence officers and senior customers can be mitigated.

An in-person briefing has a huge upside. It allows the customer to discuss with a trained intelligence officer issues regarding the sources behind the daily assessments, alternative points of view, and implications of the judgments on the printed page. A deeper understanding results. Plus, it gives the intelligence community a much better sense of the customer’s needs and challenges, which helps in the development of future products.


Special thanks to Dr. Priess, who was open to providing meaningful commentary to a new, growing media journalism project run by young college students. We are indebted to the time he devoted to helping us out. 

A Conversation with Kori Schake


Experience. Insight. Taking the long view. In national security, few things matter more– and few people can provide perspective on them like Kori Schake can.

Schake’s experience in government spans multiple administrations and agencies. Her career includes time in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as the director for Defense Strategy and Requirements on the National Security Council, and as the deputy director for policy planning at the State Department. She has seen the policy process firsthand from various viewpoints, at key moments in America’s post-Cold War history– and this week, Popular Discourse had the opportunity to reach out to her with three questions on some more current issues.

Popular Discourse: You, along with many other conservative national security experts, have signed a letter condemning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and promising not to work for him. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is welcoming the support of disillusioned Republicans. Do you think this campaign trend will create opportunities for a more bipartisan approach to foreign policy if she is elected? What might that look like?

Kori Schake: It could, but it’s too soon to tell.  Because Clinton is getting conservative national security types for free — the campaign isn’t making any policy compromises to secure our support, she’s just benefitting from our abhorrence of Trump.  But a bipartisan policy would require her to give us reasons for supporting her policies. I’d love to see her stop talking nonsense about TPP as the bellwether.  Stop relying on Republican votes to deliver a trade deal that, if it’s not passed, will be both an economic and foreign policy debacle during her presidency.  

I also think we conservatives have a lot of work to do with our own voters, who have soured on internationalism, both economic and security.  Republican voters are actually more opposed to trade than are Democrats.  And, of course, it’s conservatives who’ve put Donald Trump on the masthead of the party of Lincoln.  It will be insufficient to ignore or repudiate their views; we actually need to win the argument about how engagement with the world benefits Americans.  Because we can’t have sensible bipartisan policies until we reestablish the basis for them on our own team.

PD: What do you see as the most important foreign policy challenge the United States faces in the short term– the next 5-10 years? What about in the long term–10+ years?

KS: I’d say the principal short term challenge is helping the American people to understand how the economy is changing.  Technology is sweeping through economies like a wildfire, and even with all its benefits, people are scared by the rate of change.  Not only are peoples’ jobs going away, entire professions are going away. People are right to be scared, and political leaders aren’t helping them find paths to new work.  We won’t be able to engage confidently in the world until we succeed at that, and there are lots of foreign policy problems that need our engagement if they are not to burgeon into crises or take directions damaging to our security and prosperity.

For the longer term, I worry that we’ve lost the art of building norms and institutions.  Post-Cold War triumphalism at the expense of our power led us to reject lots of modes of cooperation that, tiresome as the doing of them may be, are cost-effective ways for the U.S. to ensure international order and practice that are beneficial to us.  And President Obama’s just as guilty of it as Presidents Clinton and Bush and the Congresses they dealt with were — drone policy is just one example where we’ve over a decade conducted ourselves in ways we will find objectionable in others, yet we made no attempt to position ourselves for a future in which we weren’t the only possessors of the capability.  We don’t compromise enough with others, we don’t utilize the means they favor for getting things done, we don’t enshrine in law or institutions things we want to have done.  It’s drawing down reserves instead of building them up.

PD: What advice would you offer to young people hoping to work in foreign policy and national security?

KS: Don’t worry too much about failure.  I’m struck at the number of young professionals who are preoccupied with making a mistake that derails their career.  Failure is just data.  Don’t give it outsized importance — your career isn’t a medieval morality play.  And you aren’t the only person whose behavior is being judged in any given circumstance, so don’t preoccupy yourself.  Dust yourself off and get back to work.  If you’re tailoring your actions to prevent failure, you’ll sail too close to the shore to achieve all your talents can give.  And while I wouldn’t advise making as many mistakes as I have, it’s emboldening to outrun hostile fortune.  Give yourself license to take risks.


The Bold War—Donald Trump’s connections to Russia prove undeniably worrisome

By MEGHAN BODETTE || August 4th, 2016

The Cold War has been over for nearly twenty-five years. Anyone watching the headlines of the past two weeks could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Fear of a potential Russian threat to the United States has returned to the news as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been questioned about his ties to the Russian government– with implications not considered by many Americans since the height of superpower rivalry.

These questions began to arise after a series of staff hires, events, and policy statements that, taken together, may not appear coincidental. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was once employed by former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian leader. Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who has advised Trump on foreign policy, has appeared multiple times on RT, a Russian state-funded news network. The presence of Manafort and Flynn, with all the personal connections to the Russian government that they bring, add a layer of suspicion to Trump’s positions on Ukraine and NATO– issues where Russia has a strong interest. The official Republican platform softened its position on the defense of Ukraine, removing language advocating ‘lethal’ aid to Ukrainian rebels. When asked about the change, Trump offered not a nuanced defense of the position— which is possible—but a refutation of any involvement and a bizarre assertion that “He [Vladimir Putin] is not going into Ukraine, okay?…he’s not gonna go into Ukraine.”  Trump’s NATO policy has scarcely changed since his earlier pronouncement that the alliance was “obsolete”. He disregards Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, replacing “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” with a threat of conditional protection based on economic calculation.

Such a pattern of staff hires and policy statements, connecting to a state whose interests often conflict with American interests, warrants serious attention in and of itself. The recently publicized hack of Democratic National Committee servers makes further investigation of a potential Russian intervention in the Trump campaign essential.

The release of about 20,000 unflattering emails showing the Committee’s undemocratic inner workings, timed to hit just before the Democratic National Convention, comes across as an attempt to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and thereby benefit Trump. The origins of the attack make that goal more than a mere partisan statement. US officials agree that the DNC attack originated from Russia, and that it had at least tacit state approval there. Some experts argue that it was explicitly sponsored by the Russian government, pointing to Trump’s ties to Manafort and Flynn and his attitude toward NATO security guarantees as reasons why they would go to such lengths to support his candidacy.


If these allegations are true— and it is possible that they could be— we have just seen direct foreign intervention in the outcome of an American election. Some observers will feel as though 20th-century panic over Russian subterfuge is finally justified.  But how exactly does Russian support of Trump relate and compare to the Cold War tradition of election interference by both superpowers— and to more subtle post-Cold War attempts at destabilization?

Since 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States interfered in the democratic processes of weaker states both within and outside of their respective spheres of influences, to keep these states from from allying with or moving too ideologically close to the other superpower. According to political scientist Dov Levin, this interference has occurred 117 times between 1945 and 2001— one out of every 9 elections. Military, economic, and political pressures have all been used, overtly and covertly, depending on the situation and the interests of the intervening state at the given time.

Classic examples of Soviet interference began with the sponsorship of Communist parties in Eastern European states close to Soviet borders, and the elimination of opposition figures to ensure that these states would come under Communist, and inevitably Soviet, control. Military forces were sent into these satellite states when leaders came about who advocated even slight breaks with Soviet policy, as in Hungary in 1956. The United States behaved similarly, working covertly to support anti-Communist parties and even sponsoring coups against governments perceived to be too leftist or too hostile to American interests. Often, this behavior has had a measurable effect— in the case of overt interventions, equivalent to an additional 3% of the total vote for the party or individual in favor of which the United States or the Soviet Union has intervened.

It is likely that any impact the DNC hack might have will be on a far smaller scale than that of these events. Trump is historically unpopular— even a 3% increase in his share of the vote might not propel him to victory. Russia is no longer a superpower, and the United States holds a greater share of relative world power than it does, lessening Russian ability to credibly influence American politics. However, this part of history is still important to keep in mind when considering both states’ actions today. The Cold War patterns of behavior detailed above establish election-related interference as a tactic used by both states to push their own interests. Because each state knows that the other has used this tactic, it knows that it might do so again, and that the tactic can be effective.

This suspicion has not ended with the breakdown of the bipolar order. Rather, it has evolved to fit shifting interests and a new technological landscape. Neither Russia nor the United States is likely to interfere with or overthrow an elected government because that government has moved too close to capitalist or communist ideology; neither is as likely to invest as much time and resources in altering the electoral outcome of a state far from its region as it might have during the Cold War. The growing power and prevalence of the Internet has opened cyberspace as a far wider field for competition and subterfuge— a field that many states have taken advantage of, from Chinese economic espionage against American companies to American use of the Stuxnet virus on computers in an Iranian nuclear facility. A state that sees an opportunity to use an old tactic for a new purpose, or against a new type of target, may benefit from that innovation— and if it believes that the benefit is credible, it is likely to pursue the opportunity.

It would be very reasonable for the Russian government to to evaluate a Trump presidency as a definite benefit, both for his pro-Russian foreign policy proposals and the disorder he would cause both within the United States and beyond it. This analysis, coupled with a sense of revenge for perceived American influence in pro-democratic “color revolutions” near its borders, could easily lead Russia to attempt to intervene, or condone intervention, in the 2016 election in favor of Trump. Whether he and his campaign are aware of it is, in a way, beside the point. Generalized instability exploited in favor of foreign interests can be as dangerous as targeted instability caused by foreign interests. In a world where any foreign intervention can have a tangible effect on democratic elections, and where the past 70 years have seen a marked pattern of such intervention, it is wise to be wary of both.


Donald Trump and The Unitary Presidency

By SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || August 2nd, 2016

The nature of U.S foreign policy institutions make a populist quasi-authoritarian leader like Trump, who promises to do much when it comes to foreign policy, particularly dangerous. That is an alarming notion and ought to frighten you.

The vision of the unitary presidency, most robustly articulated under George W. Bush’s administration, enshrined the role of the presidency as the sole organ of American foreign policy. It dismissed the role of congress in exercising foreign policy responsibilities and maintained that only the executive branch has the dynamism required to deal with international affairs.  As a consequence, today, the vast majority of authority when it comes to foreign policy decision making rests with the president. Congress has even struggled, to give an example, to draft a new AUMF (authorization for the use of military force) to empower the president to combat ISIL (Da’ash) and furthermore to define the scale and scope of our offensive operations. To this date, the Obama administration relies on the hilariously outdated 2001 AUMF  to justify airstrikes in Iraq and the kill & capture operations conducted by the ~250 commandos located there. Given the immense authority enjoyed by the presidency and the lack of robust checks on that authority, a populist demagogue like Trump would be especially dangerous whilst in office.

Before we can go on to discuss the implications of the legal structure that places immense authority in the presidency, it is important to discuss its source, what Harold Koh has defined as the ‘National Security Constitution.” The National Security Constitution is a quasi-constitutional “normative vision of the foreign policy process” which “lurks within the constitutional system…[It] creates…institutions…defines fundamental power relationships and places limitation upon the powers of each branch.” The National Security Constitution consists of three hierarchal levels of law, of which the first is the text of the Constitution itself. Concerning foreign policy, the Constitution itself is ambiguous and even contradictory, however it importantly establishes a guiding principle of shared institutional participation. At the second hierarchical level, more specific rules governing the legal rights and duties of the three branches can be found in framework statutes, legislation that “reinforces and elaborates the constitutional foundation of power sharing by constructing a statutory super structure.” At the final, and lowest, level is non-binding historical precedent or in the words of Harold Koh, “quasi-constitutional custom.” These three hierarchal levels of law work in tandem to describe a legal structure that governs the foreign policy process. So, to recap, constitutional law is kind of confusing when it comes to foreign policy—but importantly the framers were very clear on the idea of shared institutional participation, the idea that Congress and the executive branch were joint partners when it comes to foreign policy.

That idea of joint institutional participation was completely thrown out by the Hughes Court in the 1936 Curtiss-Wright decision which effectively consolidated presidential authority in foreign affairs and asserted, albeit through some questionable logic, that foreign policy authority passed directly from Great Britain to the executive branch. Since then each subsequent presidency has, for the most part, expanded executive authority little by little. Indeed, as Professor Christopher Kelly explains, “ The current…administration has simply formalized a process…that has been building over the last several decades.”

This sort of unlimited executive control of foreign policy, that is currently enjoyed by the presidency, encourages and enables costly war making. The way the executive branch has developed loosened constraints in a manner that allowed for flexibility in war making but made it easier to conduct military hostilities abroad. However, through vesting war-making power in Congress, the framers of the constitution endeavored to create a system that will “not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it.”

This reasoning is underpinned by the idea that a decision as costly as declaring war should be a product of consensus building and considerable debate. Yet, the power to conduct military action abroad has shifted hands, from Congress to the executive branch. The executive branch has near-total dominance over war making; for example, it has historically ignored the War Powers Act, a framework statute that constrains the ability of the president to, you guessed it,  make war.

There are several dangers involved in vesting this power solely with the executive branch. Most of these dangers result from the executive branch’s inherent faults as Professor Alexander Bickel posits, “The errors of the executive branch are active ones: it can rush hastily into war, and it can mistake silence for consensus…the sins of the executive branch are those of commission.” As a result, as the executive branch has claimed unilateral war making powers, the United States has entered into an increased number of ‘presidential wars’ or conflicts without congressional authorization: the Korean War, the Second Indochina War (Vietnam), Bay of Pigs invasion, the invasion of Cambodia, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, the invasion of Grenada, the War in Afghanistan, the Kosovo War, and the military intervention in Syria.  Simply put, it is not hard to imagine Donald Trump rushing into conflicts in the name of restoring American leadership and strength that would result in disaster, especially and given the Donald’s lack of expertise when it comes to Foreign Policy and the strange heterodox coterie of so-called experts that advise him.

Furthemore, Law professor Amos Guiora, in his article Human Rights and Counterterrorism, sets out a theory concerning sweeping executive power, which asserts that, “unrestrained executive power during times of crisis, not subject to the checks and balances inherent in the theory of shared institutional participation, facilitates decision making that violates individual rights.”Facing international terrorism and hostile non-state actors, the second Bush and Obama administrations have claimed extraordinary powers that can (and some argue already do) threaten fundamental human rights. The Obama administration, for example, has received considerable criticism for the use of drones to conduct extra-judicial killings. Professor Afsheen John Radsan explains how “The executive branch can unilaterally designate an individual as an armed enemy combatant and then without any due process or retroactive judicial review, kill said individual.”. The expansion of such presidential powers has always been implicitly justified by the idea that the executive branch will reasonably and appropriately use them.  But, without an impartial adjudicator to constrain the exercise of such a power, the prospect of a Trump presidency makes me worry if he will prudently exercise the authority vested in the office of the president. A president that has legitimately proposed to ban an entire religion from entering the United States, and has supported the use of torture and waterboarding, cannot be expected to, for one, not do those things and two, exercise his authority in a ‘reasonable’ manner. However, those who would oppose the imagined blatant violation of civil rights that would occur under a Trump presidency, have little recourse anymore. That is deeply troubling to me and hopefully to you, as well, and it pretty powerfully suggests as well that we ought to articulate a new vision of foreign policy power sharing in which there are legitimate congressional checks on presidential authority.

US-Cuban Relations: Historical Significance and the Paradox Behind It


By JOSHUA CHANG || July 27, 2016

In the spring of 2016, President Obama traveled to Cuba to meet with Raúl Castro, its president. In a historic summit a new connection was laid between both countries after decades of Cold-War era hostilities drove an indomitable rift between them. The thawing of hostilities has been accompanied by more economic liberalization on Cuba’s part, as it increasingly shifts away from the socialist command economy promoted under the ancien regime under Fidel Castro, Raúl’s brother. Driven by stronger economic ties and the statesmanship of both leaders, the United States and Cuba are entering a new era of reconciliation. The US has begun to lift the trade embargo it placed on Cuba in 1962, flights from the mainland to the island country are now permitted, and exchange in both communications and commerce is flourishing.

Yet progress has not been smooth. Fidel Castro, although no longer officially in charge of the Cuban government, continues to condemn US policy and exhibits an unshakeable mistrust of the United States. Despite progress in US-Cuban relations, he still perceives the Colossus of the North as an imperialist power hell-bent on exploiting Cuba’s economy. But if Cuba’s economy expects to make gains for itself in this new era, and animosities are being cast aside, why does Fidel Castro continue to obstinately refuse to completely trust the United States? What significance does this revival in relations have in relation to the overall historical pathway that has characterized the contemporary Cuban experience?

Although the benefits of newly improved relations between the two countries are evident, this reversal in the trend of the foreign relations between the US and Cuba comprises an ironic paradox that challenges the very foundations that the Cuban Revolution was built upon. Boundaries between past and present are blurred, and one must consider how the future of Cuba will be affected by these recent developments.


Revolutionary Tradition


To understand the nature of Cuba’s evolution from former Spanish colony to a sovereign Caribbean island nation reestablishing ties with a former archenemy, one must examine the nature of Cuban history from the mid 19th century to the present day. Historians often interpret Cuban history as a series of revolutionary movements that sought to both fend off foreign oppression while simultaneously placing the cornerstones for a new society devoid of inequality and injustice.

Cuba initiated two uprisings against its former colonial master, Spain, from 1868-1878, and 1895-1898. By the second uprising near the turn of the 20th century, the Cuban revolutionaries were on the brink of attaining victory and ousting the Spaniards. This they did, albeit, at a cost.

As most Americans familiar with the Spanish-American war know, the United States intervened in the conflict on behalf of the Cubans, defeating Spain. However, under the Platt Amendment, Cuba became nominally independent, but was subjected to protectorate status under the supervision of the United States.

US businessmen had strong commercial ties with Cuba, especially in the sugar industry. Throughout the 20th century, Cuba retained its status as a single-crop export economy heavily dependent upon the market forces surrounding the popularity of sugar as a commodity. Although the Cuban economy languished, these US businessmen were solely interested in reaping profits, and not further developing the infrastructure of the country or diversifying its economy. Cubans were infuriated not only by the economic doldrums brought on by their dependence on sugar exports, but also by the fact that the United States also manipulated the country’s elections to ensure that local politicians allegiant to US interests remained in power.

After having continued for nearly half a century, Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution in the 1950s was meant to overturn the status-quo of the country and uphold the ideals and goals espoused by previous Cuban revolutionaries throughout the decades in their struggles against oppression. Castro even saw himself as an extension of the legacy of Cuban revolutionism in his specific intent to reform Cuban society. Castro’s Revolution allowed him to usurp control, end cycles of political corruption, and consolidate control over US businesses and facilities on the country.

As we know, this resulted in the Bay of Pigs Invasion and numerous attempts by the US to overthrow Castro, as well as the subsequent Cuban movement to the Soviet sphere of influence.


The Goals


Although traditionalist and revisionist historians have continually debated on the direction that Castro wanted Cuba to move forward, they cannot deny that regardless of the economic issues that arose out of his policies of Cuban dependency on the USSR, the Cuban leader himself wanted to ensure that the United States be excluded from the sphere of Cuban affairs forever. Castro used the threat of US invasion and antagonisms to justify his policies and use of power. The Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Embargo were enough to keep him in power, and Castro furthered ties with the United States’ Cold War rival, the USSR, to ensure that never again would Cuba be trapped in dependency on the Colossus of the North.

Even as the Cuban economy faltered in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Castro considered his revolution to be a victory so long as the United States was kept at bay.


The Present


As the United States mends its relations with Cuba, the general fear is that Cuba will revert back to another period of dependency on its larger neighbor through a capitalist system with terms dictated by the US. Castro himself may regard this to be a betrayal of his sacred revolution, and an unraveling of all that was achieved through it. However, to those skeptical of renewed relations between the United States and Cuba, the circumstances are quite different. For one, the United States no longer possesses any monopolies over any industries in Cuba, which means that there will be no unfair economic imbalance when the two start out.

Whereas Cuban suspicion lingered heavily during the Cold War, this is no longer the case as Cubans actively seek foreign investment from other countries to reinvigorate a previously stagnant economy. Tourism from the United States as well as remittances are doing much to lay the groundwork for this revival in the Cuban economy.

Could Cuba be experiencing a post-Castro revolution, albeit one in which it fully integrates itself with the global economic network? One can only hope that the past can be put behind the country for good.

Praising the Turkey Coup: An Erroneous Position

The recent failed coup in Turkey and, moreover, the diversity of reactions to it by various members of the pundit class was an interesting exercise in how illiberal forms of democracy consistently baffle the sometimes-not-so-intelligent intelligentsia. This bafflement is expressed in the equally-remarkable support some U.S pundits had for the coup. Since Erdogan was authoritarian, removing him would be a necessarily pro-democratic act, the argument goes. Not only is it reliant on a specious logic, it is premised on an ignorance of the politics of Turkey.

Turkey fits the description of an illiberal democracy, a term first defined by Fareed Zakaria: it is democratic in its governance structure but illiberal—increasingly authoritarian—in its functioning. In this manner, Erdogan’s Turkey resembles many states who also fit the bill: Egypt (during the Morsi administration), Russia, Iran, Poland (recently), Venezuela, Ghana, and many others. The contrast between democracy and illiberalism perceived by U.S thinkers and writers that animates such statements of support for the coup  is a product of our unique political tradition wherein democracy and liberalism are two intricately linked concepts. To quote Kathy Gilsinan quoting Shadi Hamid, “As Richard Youngs writes in his excellent study of non-Western democracy, liberalism and democracy have historically been ‘rival notions and not bedfellows.’ Liberalism is about non-negotiable personal rights and freedoms. Democracy, while requiring some basic protection of rights to allow for meaningful competition, is more about popular sovereignty, popular will, and accountability and responsiveness to the voting public.” (I would like to pause and point out the triple quote on quote here)

Our American tradition holds that the rights enshrined by liberalism are necessary for the proper functioning of society and democracy and that both liberalism and democracy are similar in that they both are expressions of ideologically humility. Nevertheless, the American political ethos holds classic liberalism and democracy as inextricably linked—supporting democracy, in this tradition, is a liberal value; an axiom that is consistent across many iterations of liberalism. But it is just the same that, in many cases, democracy may empower the voices of those opposed to liberal values and end up eroding them.

It is my suspicion that the contrast between liberalism and democracy, especially in non-western democracies, produces confusion over which actions constitute a pro-democratic act and which do not. Since liberalism and democracy are related concepts in our political tradition, a coup against an illiberal leader is thus construed to be a pro-democratic act. And while perhaps within our political system, democracy and liberalism ought to be sometimes understood as related concepts, other times they clearly come in contrast with one another—such is the lesson of the illiberal democracy.

But that is not the only problem with blindly supporting the Turkey coup in the name of democracy. First of all, of the many military coups in the past, most if not all have resulted in an authoritarian state. Secondly, the perpetrators do not have substantial democratic bonafides either. ( Given how entrenched support for AKP is within the country, it would stand to reason that in order for stability to be established in the case of successful coup, an authoritarian approach would be necessary.

Furthermore, a military coup, and an unpopular one at that, is affront to democratic principles. What pundits are supporting, when they ascribe democratic traits to the coup, is an armed subversion of the will of the body politic. We hold that governments are assented to and formed by the people, not imposed on them. Democracy offers the citizenry a choice to accept the tradeoffs of an increasingly authoritarian state, and allows them to judge whether it is truly within their best interest. While it is true that the irony of this popular authoritarianism is that it erodes the democratic institutions that facilitated its institution, and undermines the ability of the citizenry to properly exercise their democratic responsibilities by silencing political opponents and the media, supporting a military coup that utterly ignores the popular will and acts without a mandate is anathema to democracy, plain and simple.

Sexual Violence in South Sudan: Raising Awareness

By MATTHEW HERSKOWITZ       July 19, 2016

After a young girl watched her parents shot to death by rebel soldiers in her village, she doesn’t think life can get any worse. Soon after, she is sexually assaulted by multiple rebel soldiers until she loses her ability to walk and her desire to speak. She attempts suicide, but fails.

Her name is Kanyere Neema, and she is a South Sudanese refugee currently in treatment at the Goma hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In South Sudan, young girls and women are treated as “trophies” of war by radical rebel groups, mere objects for sex and trafficking. Kanyere is one of their youngest victims. She is part of the Nuer tribe, the second largest ethnic sect in South Sudan. The Dinka tribe, the largest, has been in a vicious and unrelenting power struggle with the Nuer tribe since 2011, when South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan and became the world’s newest country. The UN reports that millions have been displaced by the violence, and Al Jazeera furthers that “the number of refugees in neighboring countries is now 835,000” and that the number is heading for “1 million.”

In the conflict, the vice-president Riek Machar has been trying to unseat President Salva Kiir. The  two sides both expressed a willingness to cease fire, and on July 14th it was implemented. The ceasefire is holding shakily, but there is no guarantee that the violence will abate. As long as South Sudan remains volatile and violent, girls and women like Kanyere have an uncertain future in South Sudan.

Unfortunately, sexual assault and coercion are used as weapons of war in this conflict. In April, the Human Rights Watch documented scores of instances of sexual violence among government forces operating in Unity state of the country, from gang rapes to torture.[1] The UN has a peacekeeping force in South Sudan but their numbers are too small to have a serious impact, as women and girls are subject to sexual assault all around the country.

Sexual assault has a horrific impact on young girls. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that the effects of rape and other forms of sexual violence range from unwanted pregnancies to exposure to HIV, from physical pain to psychological scarring, from the risk of social isolation to a lower likelihood of marriage, and perhaps worst of all, forced marriage to the perpetrator. Age and health conditions seem to not be a factor, with the youngest victims reported to be as young as four years of age.

Because of the social stigma of rape on the victim, many are afraid to report it and thus live with the burden alone. Aurore Brossault, head of mental health and psycho-social support for the Red Cross in South Sudan explains,

“Sexual violence shatters communities and rips family bonds apart in provoking deep shame for the victim as well as devastating levels of psychological torment. How can mother and child keep the same relationship if the child had been forced to witness the mother’s rape? It is unimaginable!”

Along with the irreversible psychological trauma it causes, the literal scars of sexual assault require almost immediate medical attention. The scariest part of this is that for all the mass sexual violence occurring in South Sudan, surgeons who are vital in aiding assault victims are way too few and far between.

It’s crucial that we open our eyes to the second largest refugee crisis occurring right now, second only to the crisis mainly in Iraq in Syria. Our blindness to such a calamity due to a lack of coverage by popular Western media is outrageous. Although mass sexual violence in war is as old as war itself, the reports of what’s happening to young girls and even infants are horrendous and unlike anything I’ve ever read in to. The prohibition of rape is the oldest of the rules of war, clearly banned in all types of conflicts by the Geneva Conventions. Mass sexual violence must be rooted out internationally in every form, and this disgusting war crime must be one of the past, not a cause for anger and fear for the future of girls and women.

South Sudan may be geographically distant from Europe and the United States, but a human life is a human life. We can not stand idly by while girls and women in South Sudan and all over the world face such an awful plight. There are mechanisms for action in place. The UN can either establish an independent court or refer the crimes committed in South Sudan to the International Criminal Court. The Security Council can also empower peacekeepers as well as UN member nations to impose and enforce an embargo on both government and rebel forces. The world community has done nothing to protect Kanyere, but we have an opportunity to remove the cold calculation of intervention and recognize that the commitment to life is absolute, no matter what country.