Responses to Mearsheimer talk

By Morgan Doll, Maggie Manson, and Mary Trimble

July 7th, 2020

On Thursday, February 27, John Mearsheimer, the Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, delivered a talk called “America’s Delusional Foreign Policy during the Unipolar Moment.” The talk was co-sponsored by the John Quincy Adams Society and the Global Research Institute. In the following weeks, TRIP Research Assistants wrote about their thoughts in response to the talk. Campus deactivation due to COVID-19 prevented us from posting their reactions until now. 

Morgan Doll’s  Response

According to TRIP’s 2017 Faculty survey, many IR scholars believe that John Mearsheimer has been one of the greatest influences on the field of IR in the past 20 years. We wanted to see how Mearsheimer’s arguments compared to what other International Relations scholars think by using TRIP data from snap polls IX, X, and XI.

  1. How effective do you think each of the following approaches are to achieving the foreign policy goals of the United States?
From TRIP Snap Poll X
From TRIP Snap Poll X

Scholars agree with Mearsheimer’s argument that the United States’ foreign policy approach of military intervention was not effective in achieving the foreign policy goals of the United States. The vast majority of scholars also agree with Mearsheimer that participating in international organizations is very to somewhat effective.

  1. How likely is war between the United States and China over the next decade? Please use the 0 to 10 scale with 10 indicating that war will definitely occur.
From TRIP Snap Poll X
From TRIP Snap Poll X

In his talk, Mearsheimer discussed how U.S. engagement with China backfired for the U.S. and led to China becoming one of the three current world powers. Mearsheimer believes that the rise of China will be a major international security concern and is unlikely to be tranquil. Interestingly enough, the majority of IR scholars think that war with China in the next decade is unlikely with 92.13% of scholars rating war with China a 5 or less out of 10.

  1. Would you support the United States withdrawal from NATO?
From TRIP Snap Poll XI
From TRIP Snap Poll XI

Mearsheimer’s focus was centered on the U.S.’s foreign policy decisions and how this has affected the state of the world today. One of his arguments was that NATO was responsible for the Ukraine crisis. Even though he is a proponent of realism, he believes that at this point all institutions and international organizations are indispensable. Especially with the resurrection of Russia as an international power, he and scholars agree that they strongly oppose U.S. withdrawal from NATO.

  1. The United States is negotiating a free trade agreement with twelve Pacific nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP). Do you support or oppose this free trade agreement?
From TRIP Snap Poll IX
From TRIP Snap Poll IX

Mearsheimer noted that there is a tendency to describe Trump as a realist politician. He disagrees with this notion and a lot of Trump’s policy; for example, he believes that Trump should not have pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership along with many IR scholars who oppose many of Trump’s signature foreign policy decisions. Mearsheimer additionally argued that the reason why Trump is in the White House and why Bernie Sanders is doing relatively well in Democratic primaries is because of the bad U.S.FP decisions made in recent history. American citizens are in a period where they crave more non-interventionist candidates who seek to change the present system.

 

Maggie Manson’s Response 

During Professor John Mearsheimer’s talk: “America’s Delusional Foreign Policy During the Unipolar Moment,” which corresponded with the release of his new book The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, Mearsheimer outlined the basic tenets of liberalism, nationalism, and liberal hegemony. He argued that nationalism was the most powerful political ideology on the planet and that it was a sharp refutation of liberal hegemony. According to Mearsheimer, liberal hegemony, which entails the spread of democracy and the integration of countries into the international economy and international institutions, has long guided United States Foreign Policy (USFP). He described U.S. state-building in the Middle East, U.S. intervention in Eastern European democratization efforts, and U.S. engagement with China as key examples of liberal hegemony. Mearsheimer argued that these examples ultimately demonstrate the failure of liberal hegemony, on account of the power of nationalism, realism, and the overselling of individual freedoms by liberal hegemony. 

After the talk, I asked Professor Mearsheimer: “In the opposite fashion of the Bush doctrine, how would U.S. aid for dictatorships in the Arab world (as a response to a fear of Islamism) fit into this idea that USFP has centered on liberal hegemony in recent years?” My logic behind this question was that if the Bush doctrine and the idea of liberal hegemony centered on the spread of democracy, then why would the U.S. provide aid to dictatorships, and what paradigm would these actions then align with? Mearsheimer replied that he did not believe that fear of Islamism was a factor that played into the promotion of dictators by the U.S. and that extremist fears were not necessarily relevant to those considerations. When referencing Islamism I was referring to political Islam, not terrorism, so clarification on my end could’ve helped. However, he went on to say that the reason for such actions would be that the U.S. was supporting U.S.-friendly dictatorships to bolster its own interests, not democracy. While I agree that state interests could be an explanatory factor for U.S. support of dictatorships, I believe that this explanation is incomplete without factoring in the fear of the rise of political Islam that could occur through the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. Promotion of democracy would otherwise better fit the U.S.’s interests if it was not concerned about Islamism in a democratic middle east. Also, his answer appeared to be contradictory to his previous reference of the Bush doctrine as a prime example of liberal hegemony because that doctrine centered on the spread of democracy which is not reflected through the promotion of dictatorship, even if it better serves American interests. I did find Professor Mearsheimer’s talk to be extremely interesting and engaging, despite my disagreement with his answer. 

Mary Trimble’s Response

“It’s all going to be peace, love, and dope.” That was how John Mearsheimer, world-renowned realist international security scholar, characterized the U.S. policy of liberal hegemony in the post-Cold War era during his public lecture at William & Mary on Feb. 27. In his fairly comprehensive look at the relative success or failure of the U.S. project to “remake the world in its image” by democratizing nation-states, he concluded that the policies of liberal hegemony were a failure because the forces of realism and nationalism are so much more potent in the international system. After some consideration, I realized that none of what he presented was the argument I expected him to make. Despite decades of describing the world in realist terms, even outlining his own theory of offensive realism as an explanation for state aggression, he seemed, in his lecture, to assert that the U.S. was not a realist, rational actor in the unipolar moment since it was no longer constrained by balance-of-power politics and strategy. Here is, then, what I would have expected him to argue, and how it compares to what he did say.

Mearsheimer’s theory of offensive realism is predicated on the assumption that states are rational actors, and as such, try to maximize their power in the international system (which is anarchic, or without a central authority or formal hierarchy). But he didn’t start here when describing the U.S. pursuit of liberal hegemony in the unipolar moment. Rather, his assumption was that they pursued this policy based on an overwhelming belief in liberalism, rather than rational self-interest. He seemed to assign a certain moral clarity to the United States– even if the policies were wrongheaded (and resulted, according to Mearsheimer, in the longest war in the U.S. history and hundreds of thousands of casualties in the Ukraine Crisis, and in the rise of China), at least our heart was in the right place. In some ways it’s reassuring; one can almost forgive making a mess if someone was only trying to help. The U.S. does express a commitment to universal human rights, democracy as a social contract, and democratic peace. Mearsheimer argued that unipolarity allowed the United States to pursue that commitment with gusto, to create liberal hegemony in the world where the U.S. was “Godzilla surrounded by Bambi.” In his talk, he argued that unipolarity created the conditions for liberal hegemony. What I thought he would say was that the U.S. pursued liberal hegemony because liberalizing creates countries that think as the U.S. does, that engage in the international system of finance and norms like the U.S. does, and over whom the U.S. might have more influence as the head of that system in a unipolar world. Ultimately, I assumed he would say that the U.S. foreign policy in the nineties and aughts was a manifestation of the U.S. desire to maximize their power in an anarchic international system when no other power was around to stop them.

Mearsheimer pointed to the Bush Doctrine push to create liberal democracies in the Middle East as a result of the liberal hegemonic project. Maggie made an interesting point in her question to him, and in her own contribution to this post. To address Maggie’s point about the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, it seems like Mearsheimer’s own ideas of realism is the most effective at explaining various U.S. foreign policy positions in the region, not liberal hegemony defined as the univocal striving for the creation of liberal democracies. The United States has long supported Saudi Arabia as a close and relied-upon ally, despite their authoritarian rentier system and a disastrous human rights record, most infamously on gender equality and press freedom, to name only two. For another example, take U.S. support of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, who, while maintaining a tenuous peace with Israel, ruled with an iron fist with the support of a vast police state until his ouster during the Arab Spring. Why would the U.S. support these regimes if it was all-in for liberal hegemony, as Mearsheimer asserts? In reality, it seems more reasonable that the U.S. supports its allies who stand with them (whether against Iran in the case of Saudia Arabia, or in peace and stability with its other ally Israel in Egypt’s case), and does so in a manner more realist than liberal.

Mearsheimer’s ultimate argument seemed to be that the U.S. is not a realist country, and was instead motivated by a belief in liberalism. I’m not necessarily trying to say he’s wrong, only that his argument doesn’t follow logically from his many years of scholarship in international relations. But, his willingness to continue to write, engage in discussion in publications like The New York Times or Foreign Policy and to lecture to college students like me speaks to his status as a public scholar, as Professor Peterson noted in her introduction to his lecture. The ability to think critically about the arguments he proposes, and to dispute them, when necessary, allows us to inch closer to the truth in the study of international relations.

 

Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making.

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus, Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

 

The Effect of COVID-19 on Protest

By Maggie Manson

July 1st, 2020

With the world seemingly on pause for the last few months because of COVID-19, the top priority of the world’s governments has generally been to flatten the curve and protect its citizens from the virus’s rapid spread. However, some regimes have utilized lockdowns to suppress citizen protest movements, and conversely, new movements and new forms of protest have emerged from the pandemic. In a myriad of ways, this pandemic is shaping the way people protest. 

In TRIP’s most recently released Snap Poll (XIII) results, respondents were asked a question that I find relevant to protest in the age of COVID: In your opinion, is the current COVID-19 crisis likely to increase or decrease the occurrence of domestic political violence around the world over the next 12 months? 62.46% of respondents believe that COVID-19 is likely to increase the occurrence of domestic political violence around the world over the next 12 months. While this finding speaks directly to political violence, it also suggests that scholars might anticipate an increase in civil unrest. What do these results mean in the context of protest?  Let’s take a look at four different protest movements’ role in global politics and the potential impact that COVID-19 has had on them.

TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29 (2)

Algeria, which was mostly unaffected by the 2011 Arab Spring protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa, saw mass protests emerge on February 22nd, 2019 when the now-former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his bid for a fifth term candidacy for president. Bouteflika had served as president since 1999, and ever since suffering from a stroke in 2013, he had been essentially incapacitated and served more as a ceremonial figure while the political elite and military ruled. A diverse group of protesters took to the streets every Friday to demand the fall of the regime, an end to the country’s widespread corruption, and an increase in economic opportunity and political freedom. The protests resulted in significant regime concessions such as constitutional reform and eventual military-prompted resignation of Bouteflika, but protests continued every Friday until the pandemic hit the country as they felt that their demands had not yet been met. While Bouteflika had been removed, the regime itself remained, and protesters were calling for a civilian, not military lead state where repression abounded. 

With 11,031 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in the country since February 2020, government-mandated quarantine and curfew measures were certainly necessary and arguably effective in slowing the progression of the virus. These measures not only worked to stop the spread of COVID-19 but also to curb the momentum of anti-regime protest. Narrowly-elected President Abdelmajid Tebboune has utilized this lull to quietly arrest major protest leaders and participants, as to stem protests from reemerging once the country reopens. However it does not look like COVID-19 and subsequent repression will be able to prevent protest revival, as this movement has seen popular support by a majority of Algerians and has remained steadfast despite regime attempts at repression and granting of minor concessions to quell protests. 

In Iran, mass protests began in November 2019 in response to an increase in fuel prices and a continually stalling economy. The country has a separate macroeconomy in which students and adults work part-time as taxi/uber drivers or food delivery people in order to substitute regular income, or as a primary source of income. This system is reliant on fuel prices remaining stable and when the government unexpectedly increased fuel prices, citizens took to the streets. These price increases can be understood as being indirectly caused by U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action that provided significant sanctions relief for Iran. The U.S. has since reapplied harsher economic sanctions that have stalled the country’s economy and directly affected everyday citizens. 

While protests initially began as peaceful gatherings, they quickly escalated to violence with a high degree of international media coverage and swift suppression by the regime. A key tactic used by the government to quell protests was an internet blackout in which protestors could not post online to organize, and military/police violence that resulted in 1,000 + deaths and worked to quickly end the protests. However, citizens soon returned to the streets for a different reason, this time in solidarity with the regime following the death of General Qasem Soleimani, at the hands of a U.S. targeted airstrike. While funeral processions initially brought the government and people together, marches quickly turned back to anti-regime protest with the announcement of the Iranian military downing a Ukrainian airline plane that killed all passengers aboard, many being Iranian citizens. These anti-military and anti-regime protests continued until COVID-19 arrived. The country has so far seen 192,49 cases of the virus, and 9,065 deaths, giving the regime ample reason to enact quarantine measures to slow the spread. The regime has also used the outbreak as a reason to suppress and prevent protest, even using deadly force against prisoners protesting against unsafe conditions that could lead to COVID-19 contraction in prisons. 

Amidst the COVID-19 global outbreak, we have in some cases seen new protests emerge. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) joined with opposition candidate Benny Gantz (Israel Resilience Party, Blue and White coalition) to form a unity government in response to the pandemic. There had been three previous elections in which neither candidate could gain a majority or form a government. In this unity government, Netanyahu will remain PM with Gantz as Alternative PM, which has angered many of Gantz supporters who see this unity government as conceding to the ruling coalition. In response to this new coalition and ongoing corruption within the government (Netanyahu is facing several corruption charges), Israeli protestors assembled for a socially-distant protest on April 19, 2020. This anti-corruption rally demonstrated how citizens can continue to voice dissent in the wake of COVID-19 as protestors stood about two meters apart each, with facial coverings to prevent the spread of the virus as best as they could. The regime has been able to somewhat control protests as protests in April hoping to advocate against Netanyahu’s plan to annex the West Bank were told that they were prohibited from protesting in a major Tel Aviv square due to COVID-19 related regulations. However, in recent weeks protestors have been able to successfully gather, following social distancing measures to protest against the coming annexation with little pushback from the regime. 

Protests emerged nationwide in the U.S., and eventually globally after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as three other officers watched. While George Floyd’s murder may have been the spark that set off the protests, they are also addressing the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless other Black Americans who have lost their lives because of police brutality, white supremacy, and systematic racism. Protests like this have been seen in the U.S. before, notably after the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, but something about these new protests feels different

First, these protests have illuminated to a broad audience the reality of white privilege, as the recent movements contrast sharply to rallies that occurred in weeks prior where mostly white protestors called states to lift stay-at-home orders and chanted for their right to not wear a mask or to get a haircut. Many of us have had extensive time at home because of this virus to reflect on the events currently happening and educate ourselves on white privilege, what it means to be Black in America, and how we can become anti-racist. Also, the relevance of social media is greater than ever, allowing organizers to quickly disseminate information about local protests, and allowing us to share important resources such as petitions, bail funds, and contact information of lawmakers. All of these aspects have allowed the movement to gain momentum and exert significant influence in the age of COVID-19. 

However, there are notable barriers to the success of this movement, one of which is the virus, as we are seeing a sharp uptick in cases in the past few weeks. It is important to mention that many of these new cases are a result of states reopening and large gatherings that occurred over Memorial Day weekend. That being said, with a lack of social distancing measures at many protests, we will likely see an increase in the number of cases related to these events. While these new cases may be used to discredit and limit the protests, they will ultimately affect the protestors themselves who are at higher risk for contracting the virus when organizing in large groups. Another significant roadblock is the president’s efforts to repress these protests, at times calling for violence against his own citizens. The president has thus far utilized the National Guard to clear the streets of DC for a photo-op and has proclaimed that as the “law and order president” he will use all means necessary to apprehend “domestic terrorists” involved in these protests.

Each of these cases demonstrates how despite a global pandemic, citizens will find a way to protest, and that the pandemic in many ways has acted as the impetus needed to spark a movement. It will be interesting to see how these protests continue to develop in the midst of COVID-19 and how protestors will adapt to these conditions in a way that grows these movements. With 62.46% of scholars responding to the TRIP Snap Poll XIII that COVID-19 is likely to increase the occurrence of domestic political violence around the world over the next 12 months, it is clear that protests movements, violent or peaceful are here to stay.

Maggie Manson is a sophomore at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

Pandemic Revisited: COVID-19 and the 2020 TRIP Snap Poll

by  Mary Trimble
June 29th, 2020

Back in those blissful, bygone days of early March, my fellow RA Peter Leonard wrote a blog post detailing IR scholars’ perspectives on global health, pandemic diseases, and international health institutions. Reading his thorough analysis, one feels the need to hug Peter in sympathy for how his life is about to change and knock IR scholars about the ears for seriously underestimating the gravity of global pandemics– and suggest they all buy stock in Zoom. 

Only one week after Peter wrote his blog, William & Mary announced that we wouldn’t be returning from Spring Break. Only a week after that, W&M moved the remainder of the semester online. Just a few weeks before that, my fellow RAs and I had laughed off this possibility as the ravings of an alarmist professor in what would be one of our last in-person gatherings. It goes without saying that all of our lives have been drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s worth addressing, then, how IR scholars’ opinions may have shifted in the face of an actual pandemic, and what that might mean moving forward.

tweet

Peter opened his post with this Feb. 24 tweet from President Trump, a useful one that allows us to take stock of where we are now, point by point: 

  • At the time of writing, the US leads the world’s case count at 2,286,457 and is set to mark the grim milestone of 125,000 deaths by the end of the day (data taken from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center).
  • On May 29, 2020, Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing all funding from the World Health Organization, arguing the WHO is too closely aligned with China, where the virus originated and whose government initially suppressed information about the virus. 
  • The US stock market has mostly recovered after plummeting more than 30 percent in March, and as of early June the US economy was in a recession. Tens of millions of Americans are out of work as a result of the economic slowdown and shelter-in-place and lockdown orders. 

Between April 27 and May 4, nearly 1,000 IR scholars in the US responded to TRIP Snap Poll XIII, which posed questions on the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election. The results of this poll are detailed in this article in Foreign Policy, and the full results can be viewed here.

To begin, it’s worth noting that, on the subject of the WHO, roughly 63% of scholars thought the organization had been “effective” or “somewhat effective” at handling the pandemic, unsurprisingly at odds with the Trump administration’s assessment. This follows, considering Trump is extremely unpopular with IR scholars. If they were voting tomorrow, only 4.9% indicated they would vote for Trump, and in 2016, that number was only at 4%. In 2017, 40% of scholars reported having attended a protest in response to his policies, and that number rose to 60% among women. 

 IR scholars generally disapprove of the President, and have continued to hold negative views of his handling of the coronavirus crisis (only 4% would pick him in comparison to Joe Biden to handle its aftermath), but it would be unfair to suggest that scholars themselves had been ready for this pandemic. In 2014, scholars from 32 different countries dismissed pandemics as a foreign policy concern (only 3.52% listed it among their top three foreign policy concerns, and an additional 2% of scholars suggested it might be a concern in the next ten years). Based on scholars’ recent responses, however, there seems to be consensus that this pandemic has implications for US foreign policy. 

One way of analyzing foreign policy priorities is thinking about spending. When we asked scholars how the US should spend foreign assistance, a majority of scholars supported increases in US spending on economic assistance (62.55%), refugee assistance (77.2%), and, predictably, health aid (a robust 87.86%). 

TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29

It’s worth considering, however, that COVID-19 may not have much to do with scholars’ responses on aid. These numbers are fairly consistent with their sentiments in 2017. A majority of scholars (63.87%) expressed the belief that health aid improves health outcomes, and even some who thought aid didn’t improve health outcomes still suggested that the US spent too little on health aid. 

TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29

In the next question, 82 percent of scholars responded that the US spent “too little” on efforts to improve health outcomes in developing countries. It seems logical, then, that in the face of a pandemic which has ravaged even developed countries, the number of scholars wishing to increase health aid to developing countries in 2020 would improve slightly on the number of those who already thought the US was spending too little. 

TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29

If COVID-19 hasn’t swayed an already aid-friendly audience on the value of aid (in 2017 82% of scholars thought the US was spending too little on foreign aid), perhaps scholars’ opinions on the pandemic’s effect on US soft power may give us a window into how they are thinking about its lasting significance. The TRIP survey asked scholars about how the perception of the US will change among  “foreign publics” and “foreign leaders” If you are having trouble telling the graphs apart, you’d be right: Scholars had fairly similar responses as it related to both groups, generally suggesting that a negative reaction to the United States would be slightly amplified among publics as to leaders.

TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29 (1) TRIP_SP_2020_Jun_29

A significant majority of scholars think the US coronavirus response will damage foreign elite and popular opinion  of the US as a state that “is willing to help provide global public goods,” “is widely respected in the international system,” “honors its international commitments,” and to a lesser extent, as a state “with leading science, technology and medicine sectors,” and “with unmatched material power and capabilities.” Perhaps some of these metrics may vary as a function of whether or not the US is the country to develop a vaccine, how long it takes to develop, and how freely it is shared– time will tell. In any case, these results seem significant: Scholars predict that US soft power could take a major hit as a result of its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. This must seriously impact how the United States interacts with the international system, right? 

Not so fast. Before we breathlessly herald the end of the US-led liberal world order, scholars also don’t predict this crisis will lead to a major shake-up in the distribution of world power. Perhaps 54% of scholars are skeptical because they judge the blows to US and Chinese power to be roughly equal, or don’t buy that the effects will be long-lasting. For the third of scholars who suggested that the pandemic will fundamentally alter world power politics, maybe it’s because of the US’s bungled response; maybe it’s because of China’s. Maybe, in still another scenario, those scholars predict an effective Chinese soft power offensive, with “Made in China” masks and other personal protective equipment, for example, flying all over the world in an apology by way of public diplomacy. It is, clearly, difficult to say. Perhaps the 14.27% who said they didn’t know were onto something. 

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In Peter’s blog post, he expressed his hope that “the jolt given by coronavirus helps wake up any IR scholar still sleeping on epidemics.” So did it? The results are… inconclusive. Certainly, there is no one left in the world who will emerge from this period without a keen understanding of the havoc pandemics wreak not just on global health, but also the health of global economies and political institutions. And yet, well over half of the scholars who responded to TRIP’s snap poll said they would not shift the course of their research in response to COVID-19. Only 5% said they were already researching related issues. If a pandemic like the one we are experiencing touches so much of our lives in the modern, globalized world, one wonders why IR scholars don’t seem to be jumping at the chance to ask “Why?”, “How?”, “What happens next?”, and “How can we protect ourselves next time?”  

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

Global and Personal Reflections on Racism and the Response to George Floyd’s Murder

 

by Morgan Doll, Zenobia Goodman, and Mary Trimble
June 8th, 2020

As TRIP RA’s, we are encouraged to use this blog as an outlet to discuss important events around the world. Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Deparment, and keeping true to TRIP’s international focus while maintaining roots at William & Mary, we wanted to bring three RA’s together, each with different perspectives, to address his tragic death and the worldwide protests that followed from both a global and personal perspective .

  • Protestors in Sydney, Australia on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, via AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Global Perspective from Home: Morgan Doll

As an American, there is regrettably more than enough racism to pay attention to and to protest on our own soil. So much so that one can forget that racism happens on a global scale and has been happening on a global scale since the inception of the idea of race. S2:E2 of the podcast “Scene on Radio,” entitled “How Race Was Made” as part of its Seeing White series, describes how throughout human history, we have been lifting up our own cultures and ascribing other groups as “inferior” in order to justify enslaving them. The Greeks did this with the Slavs, the North Africans with the Sub-saharan Africans, etc. A major turning point in this practice was when Prince Henry the Navigator in the mid 1400’s sailed directly to Africa in order to seize black captives to work in the Americas without an African slave trading middle man. This instance signals the beginning of the chattel slavery, a practice that institutionalized systemic white supremacy; the same systemic and institutionalized racial system that America and much of the western world still experiences today.

Thus, racism has always been a global issue. While Canadians protest for George Floyd, they are also protesting for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29 year-old black woman who police say fell off of her balcony after they responded to a domestic incident in her home. Widespread instances of police brutality exist against Aboriginal Australians– at least 400 instances of Indigenous Australians dying in police custody since 1991 with no convictions–  including an all too familiar story of an Aboriginal man, David Dungay, dying in police custody with his last words being “I can’t breathe.” Additionally, anti-African Immigrant sentiment, as well as anti-Muslim sentiment, has been growing in Europe for years, and the income gap between minorities and whites persists in English-speaking countries across the world from Britain to South Africa

Our international adversaries have also been vocal about America’s intrinsic racism, and rightfully so, despite their own human rights violations. China’s state-run media runs reports about George Floyd’s death painting it as “another sign of America’s decline,” while they commit genocide against the Muslim Uyghurs. Officials in Iran addressed racial injustice in America by tweeting: “If you’re dark-skinned walking in the US, you can’t be sure you’ll be alive in the next few minutes.” Iran is a known perpetrator of injustices against women, LGBTQ+, and religious minorities. This is a global problem and will require global solidarity to solve.

-Morgan

Global Perspective from Abroad: Mary Trimble

As a TRIP RA who has lived in Belgium for the past three years, I have been able to watch the European reaction to Floyd’s murder first hand. In Belgium, there have certainly been efforts towards solidarity with American protesters, some more successful in their execution than others. Like in the United States, social media has been an important tool for spreading the word about protests, petitions, and resources. There has also been increasing awareness from my American expat and European friends that Europe also has a racism problem that needs to be addressed in its own institutions.

Over the weekend, a Belgian train was tagged with the words “Please, I can’t breathe,” George Floyd’s final words. The graffiti was the work of the graffiti crew “1UP,” based in Berlin. The Facebook post showing a picture of the train was written in English, referring to the United States as the “Divided States.” The train company, SNCB said that while they were “sensitive to this type of message,” “tagging a train remains an act of vandalism,” and that the tag impedes the view of passengers inside the train. The reaction in the press and on social media, however, seemed positive, and a video of the train was published by the American media company, “NowThis.” A petition to allow the tag to remain on the train for “at least 100 days” received over 8,000 signatures as of Wednesday, June 3.

There was also an effort by “Black Lives Matter Belgium” to plan a protest in downtown Brussels on Monday, June 1, despite the fact that Belgium, which is still in Phase 2 of reopening after its coronavirus lockdown, does not yet allow public demonstrations. Criticism of the proposed march began immediately after it was posted on Facebook on Sunday, May 31, arguing that it put people in danger of catching the virus by flouting public health measures. Those behind the demonstration declined to make their names public, and as a result, rumors flew regarding their identity. Some suggested that the march was organized by the Nieuw Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), a far right party from the North. Similar to allegations that the marches in the United States were being co-opted by alt-right protesters, many here, including the anti-racism organization “Sans blanc de rien” (“Without Anything White”), asserted that the march was organized in order to draw people of color and their allies into possible confrontations with police. 

The protest was ultimately officially cancelled on Monday morning, and the organizers posted on Facebook identifying themselves as “four black women” who were “not N-VA, Nazis, or Donald Trump supporters.” However, around 50 people still gathered in Brussels’ Place de la Monnaie to protest. The police did not disrupt the demonstration, and did their best to enforce social distancing measures which are still in place. During the week, an amalgamation of racial justice groups in Brussels organized another protest for Sunday, June 7. Though it was not an “approved” protest, commune mayors in Brussels and the Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès, agreed to tolerate the protest. On Sunday afternoon, nearly ten thousand people gathered in the shadow of Brussels’ Palais de Justice, doubling organizers’ original attendance estimates, to show solidarity with US protesters and address racism in Belgium. As the protest wound down, there were instances of looting in the upscale shopping district in downtown and clashes with police. 

Many who participated in Sunday’s protest pointed to issues of racism and police brutality inside Belgium. A petition to remove all statues of Leopold II in Brussels was launched last week and quickly gained traction on social media. The legacy of Leopold II and his personal ownership of the Congo in the 19th and 20th century has been largely unaddressed in Belgium. Modern historical estimates place the number of Congolese killed during Leopold’s colonial reign somewhere around 10 million, and it is widely considered one of the most brutal colonial regimes in Africa. The murder of George Floyd has provided an impetus to look more closely at Belgium’s exploitative history. The petition, which notes that “we do not want to erase the past, but we do want to erase any homage to this man,” will close at the end of the month, to mark the 60th anniversary of independence for the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

As an American living abroad, it has been both inspiring and disappointing to see the response overseas. Inspiring, because so many worldwide care about ending racism, discrimination, and police brutality. The murder of George Floyd has allowed introspection on the European continent as well, which is certainly long overdue. It is disappointing because, to me, it speaks to how poorly the United States is perceived on the world stage. There is a reason the women behind the BLM Belgium protest were quick to point out that they were not Donald Trump supporters. There is a reason the 1UP Facebook page called us the “Divided States.” If anything positive can emerge from this horrible tragedy, let it be that the United States works to be just that: United. United in our condemnation of racism, bigotry, and discrimination. United in our efforts to prove with every personal interaction and with every police confrontation that a black life is worth every bit as much as a white one in our own eyes and the eyes of the law. May we prove to the world, and to Europe especially, that while maintaining a multiracial democracy takes hard work, it is work worth doing. As President Obama wrote this week, “If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”

-Mary
W&M Perspective: Zenobia Goodman and Morgan Doll

When the protests surrounding police brutality and the injustices of black people in America began, I could not help but reflect upon the college town that I’ve called home for the last two years. The former slave quarters that have been turned into classrooms for students and the town that I walk through that was primarily built on the oppression of African American slaves. I found myself thinking about my educational privilege and how I can best help those in need. I then realized that a large part of fighting racial injustices, is holding those around you accountable. As an institution that was primarily built at the hands of racism and oppression, I find that we have even more responsibility in the fight to promote anti-racism. This first starts by educating one another on what it means to be an anti-racist and going from there. Acknowledging history is so important when it comes to those things, but after this the next step must always be accountability.

-Zenobia

These recent events have brought a lot of things to light that I did not know about William & Mary. The history of the second oldest college in the United States is as disturbing as it is inspiring. The college was chartered to educate the white, elite men of the south, many of whom owned slaves, and, the college itself owned slaves who, among many other things, harvested tobacco to provide scholarships for poorer white men to attend. The beloved Wren Building was built by slaves. The college only became public after the Civil War because it gave its entire endowment — in addition to many of its students and professors — to the Confederate cause. In fact, the Civil War was the only time period during which William & Mary has closed in its over 300 year history, precisely because the College was so committed to upholding slavery and supporting the Confederacy. 

During the Jim Crow Era, the black staff was not paid a living wage and their children were not allowed to attend the college. The first black, undergraduate student, Oscar Houser Blayton, was admitted in 1963 but was not allowed to live on campus. Four years later, the first black women, Karen Ely, Lynn Briley, and Janet Brown were admitted and roomed in the basement of Jefferson Hall.

Speaking for white people in general, we might hear about efforts such as the Lemon Project and we are exposed to conversations about diversity during our Freshman Orientation. But, if I didn’t choose to take a freshman seminar on Race, Law, and Memory, I wouldn’t have known much about my black classmates’ experiences at W&M. I thought we were pretty diverse as colleges go; 59% white, 41% BIPOC. Breaking that down, our school is only 7% black. This is not representative of the demographics of our country and it is a very unsettling reality, especially given how much William & Mary benefited from African American and Black people throughout our troubled history. Additionally, the vast majority of professors are white, while the staff is almost all black; this serves a painful reminder of how the odds are stacked in this country and how important white privilege is in determining education and professional outcomes. One not only has to be open to having these vulnerable conversations, but also has to seek out these conversations to have them in a largely white environment like W&M. 

There is a lot of listening that has to be done. Higher education institutions committing to anti-racism will require drive and education by both the students and the administration, which is why ideas of requiring a diversity focused freshman seminar is one solution that is being considered. Thankfully, the recent events have encouraged students to ask questions of themselves and our administration regarding changes we would like to see in our community. In fact, student organizations banded together to raise money for the Cooperative Change Fund that raised over $30,000 in 24 hours for legal organizations that focus on policy changes and training to reduce the rate of police violence. This, in addition to the Lemon Project and other initiatives, gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction.

-Morgan

To donate to the Cooperative Change Fund at William & Mary, Venmo @acs_wm. All funds will be donated to Campaign Zero and the National Police Accountability Project.

Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making.

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in the human rights violations and global development issues.

Mary Trimble is a sophmore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.