TRIPping up on Epidemics

By Peter Leonard

March 3, 2020

It’s hard to turn on the news and not hear about the most recent boogeyman storming through the headlines: coronavirus. The virus has spread from China to multiple countries, including Italy, South Korea, and Iran, to name a few. High-ranking officials in the U.S. are still split on where they stand on the virus. President Donald Trump Tweeted:

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This Tweet flies in the face of a new CDC warning to take extra precautions when travelling. According to a top CDC official, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

If government actors are largely split on how they feel about coronavirus, IR scholars are less inclined to sound the alarm bells. TRIP data shows that, for the most part, IR scholars do not research disease, teach health as a security issue, or think about epidemics as major foreign policy concerns. This information confirms our suspicions in some ways– according to IR scholars, you should be much more scared of climate change than disease epidemics like the coronavirus. However, the TRIP data shows that this lack of attention to health may be a fault. Epidemics have the potential to cause a fair amount of damage, and IR scholars may not be accounting for all the negative side-effects of disease.

The TRIP Data

All of the data I gathered comes from the 2014 TRIP Faculty Survey, which can be found here. First, it is interesting to note how insignificant IR scholars see epidemics in terms of their importance for foreign policy.

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When asked what the three most important foreign policy issues facing scholars’ respective countries were, only 3.52 percent of scholars globally considered epidemic disease a major concern.

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The number rises a bit when IR scholars were asked about what the top concerns will be in the next ten years, with 5.12 percent of scholars responding that epidemic disease would become a major foreign policy issue for their respective countries. However, the percentage of IR scholars who worry about epidemics is still minute. Even in 2017, when the Zika virus was emerging as a plausible threat, only 6.74% of U.S. scholars said that epidemics were a foreign policy issue for the U.S.

Now, contrast the lack of worry about epidemics with data that shows IR scholars have little faith in international health institutions’ capacity to contain a pandemic disease:

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Only around 35 percent of IR scholars classify international health institutions as either “very capable” or “capable” to manage the spread of disease, leaving the majority of IR scholars either neutral, unsure, or skeptical of our global health infrastructure.

Whether or not the coronavirus will reach the level of a global pandemic crisis remains to be seen. However, the virus has clearly shown how the fear of a global pandemic can wreak havoc in more areas than health. Stocks continue to drop as traders remain spooked about the effects the virus will have on the market. Coronavirus has also proven how vulnerable globalized trade routes can be; companies like Apple have had to cut their revenue expectations due to a diminished workforce and subsequent lower supply of goods. There’s even a shortage of hockey sticks thanks to coronavirus’ effect on supply chains. 

Given the economic and overall global turmoil that can spring from an epidemic, one must wonder why IR scholars do not rank it higher as a foreign policy concern. One possible explanation is that it’s not discussed enough in the field. When we asked scholars what topics they teach in national/international security courses, “Disease/global health” was the lowest ranked category.

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This may be because scholars are unfamiliar with the topic themselves.  In a separate question, less than 0.5 percent of IR scholars surveyed globally named global health was their main research focus. Apathy in the form of a lack of teaching and research about epidemics in IR may beget further apathy and skepticism.

The spread of coronavirus and its accompanying shockwaves have major repercussions for IR. Countries are considering shutting their borders, the disease is hurting the international economy, and globalization is once again under the microscope. Given these major repercussions, it is important to question IR scholars’ historical lack of interest in the topic. One has to hope that the jolt given by coronavirus helps wake up any IR scholar still sleeping on epidemics. 

The Need for a Balanced Strategy in U.S. Foreign Policy towards Israel

By Maggie Manson

February 26th, 2020

On January 28th, 2020, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the Peace to Prosperity Plan: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, also known as the Trump Peace Plan. This plan claims to provide a definitive solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and usher in a new era of U.S. foreign policy regarding the conflict. However, the lack of Palestinian leadership present in the drafting and unveiling of the plan demonstrates a clear adherence to the status quo of a one-sided U.S. approach to the conflict that heavily favors Israel. This strategy places the U.S., a, supposed mediator of the conflict, in a staunchly pro-Israel position that undermines the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine. 

U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine has long been defined by bipartisan pro-Israel politics and well-funded pro-Israel lobbying by groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In recent years, President Trump has doubled down on a pro-Israel stance by moving the U.S.- Israel embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This recognition is significant because this move essentially validates Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the city that is dually claimed by Palestine and has historically been a grey zone in U.S. foreign policy regarding the region. Trump also declared that Israeli West Bank Settlements do not violate international law, in contrast the 192 other member nations to the United Nations that  have affirmed through Resolution 446 (1979) that these settlements are in violation of international law. 

There has been increased resistance by progressives within Congress to Trump’s policies on Israel, along with increased international resistance to Israeli dominance of the region. But how do international relations scholars view Trump’s policy towards Israel, and how might U.S. foreign policy on Israel evolve in the coming 2020 presidential election? First let’s take a look at how we got where we are today on Israel. 

The Israel Lobby has been highly influential in forming current U.S. foreign policy on Israel, this lobby is constructed of groups such as AIPAC and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that invest large sums of money towards maintaining a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy approach. These groups utilize tactics such as letter writing, organizing conferences, distributing educational information, and drafting legislation to influence the policy process regarding Israel. In previous years the efforts of the Israel Lobby have been successful in shaping the policy positions of both Democratic and Republican opinion leaders, but recently, there has been significant pushback from a minority of opinion leaders along with shifting attitudes of public opinion on the issue. However, the relevance of the Israel Lobby in the US foreign policy process cannot be understated and will likely remain significant in influencing U.S. foreign policy towards Israel for years to come. 

Here’s what foreign policy scholars have to say about President Trump’s decision to move the U.S.-Israel embassy to Jerusalem based on the results of the TRIP 2020 snap poll XII. In one question, scholars were given a list of Trump’s foreign policy actions and asked, “have the following actions had a positive effect, negative effect, or no effect on US credibility with its allies?” One such policy action was the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 84.94% of scholars responded that this action had a negative effect on US credibility with its allies, while only 4.32% responded that it had a positive effect.

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See fifth bar from right for “Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Public opinion on the issue is also shifting with a general increase in more centrist views as well as pro-Palestinian viewpoints. On university campuses there has been increased pushback to pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy in the form of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and organized protests in which students voice their concerns with this Israel-favoring approach.

How might these realignments of opinion be reflected in the policy process in the coming years? There has been an increase in dissenting opinions against Trump’s Israel approach, notably by progressive congressional representatives such as Representative Ilhan Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib, who have very publicly expressed sympathy with the plight of Palestine. 

Additionally, there is promise for a more balanced approach from many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. The majority of candidates have expressed support for a two-state solution, but a few candidates have described more detailed plans. Senator Elizabeth Warren has stated that she would support a plan that placed Jerusalem as the joint capital of both Israel and Palestine and grant both states sovereignty over the city. Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed disdain with the influence that AIPAC exerts over the US foreign policy process. Sanders has also called for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, which were agreed upon by Israel and the UN after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Pete Buttigieg has stated that he would approve of withholding US military aid towards Israel, especially in the event that they annexed the West Bank. 

All of these positions reflect a change from the current U.S. foreign policy on Israel and signal a possibility for significant change in US-Israel relations in the event of a Democratic presidency. Regardless of whether or not these ideas will actually be articulated in the form of policy change, it is clear that US opinions, of both the public and scholars, are shifting on Israel and we can expect to continue to see dissent of a pro-Israel approach. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the Israel Palestine conflict will be discussed in both the 2020 Democratic primary election as well as in the general presidential election.

 I certainly hope to see more discussion on the conflict in the coming debates and I am optimistic that there will be a shift in U.S. foreign policy that is more sympathetic towards Palestine in the coming future. As a Jewish American, this is an issue that has been at the forefront of my political consciousness for most of my life. After visiting Israel this past summer, I discovered the rich history, culture, and customs of the state of Israel, but I also recognized the suffering of the Palestinian people that much of this culture is built off of. This experience, partnered with an education that has exposed me to a more holistic view on the issue, has helped to develop my balanced view of the conflict which favors a two state solution in which Palestine would retain the West Bank and Gaza. 

I believe that President Trump’s rhetoric of conflating American Judaism with Zionism and Israeli nationality is extremely dangerous and an invalid way of garnering support for his pro-Israel policies. We cannot allow our leaders to continue to mobilize a historic narrative of the state of Israel, while turning a blind eye to the atrocities that Israel commits towards the Palestinian people. While it is important to craft arguments with cultural awareness and bring a degree sensitivity to discussions of the conflict, dissent towards U.S. foreign policy on Israel or the actions of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, and should not be blanket labeled as such. I would also argue that the influence that the Israel Lobby exerts on the US foreign policy process is detrimental to a U.S. foreign policy that is representative of public opinion on the conflict. If the US government were able to shift away from the influence of this lobby, our foreign policy would be more reflective of US interests. 

Explore more of TRIP’s Snap Poll XII data here.

Bernie Sanders: Too Divisive for IR Scholars?

By Lucas Arnett

February 19th, 2020

After months of political debate surrounding the Democratic primary, it seemed leading up to the Iowa caucus that Joe Biden was among the favorites, both in Iowa and nationally. However, after a tumultuous week for moderates, mainstream media appears to agree that Bernie Sanders has become the candidate to watch. The question is, will his foreign policy prove as divisive as his domestic policy? 

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In our latest Snap Poll released in January, we asked nearly five thousand International Relations scholars what they thought about recent foreign policy issues and the democratic candidates. Surprisingly for some, Warren received the most support, with 38% of respondents, followed by Biden and Buttigieg tied at around 17% support. Remarkably, only 5% said they would vote for Bernie Sanders.

When asked which candidates would most effectively manage foreign policy, about 40% of respondents chose Joe Biden, a full 23% more than Warren and 27% more than Buttigieg. Again, only 5% of respondents selected Bernie Sanders. And even among those, I suspect it is a lot of the same people who said they would vote for him in the previous question.

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Despite recent coverage praising Sandersforeign policy in the newspapers last week and some recent gains in the polls, why is the academic community so hesitant to back him relative to the other candidates? Considering Bernie Sanders’ go-to foreign policy talking point is his opposition to the Iraq War in 2003, which experts also opposed, one would think he would be preferable to candidates like Biden who originally supported the war (although he has since expressed regret).

One explanation could be that Bernie Sanders lacks foreign policy experience. He has never served in the military, has no direct experience in International Relations research, academia, or policy, and he does not conduct diplomacy in his role as Senator. That is a leg up that Biden, who served in a diplomatic capacity as Vice President, and Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, have on him. If most foreign policy related think tanks, government agencies, and newspapers believe time abroad in the area of study is a critical credential a competitive candidate, why should it not be for the white house? 

However, despite his lack of experience in the real world of foreign affairs, Sanders does agree with the majority of international relations scholars and Warren, Biden, and Buttigieg (for the most part) in their support for the JCPOA, non-proliferation, cutting military spending, and avoiding unnecessary escalation and intervention, so he is not completely ignorant. 

More likely, the controversy comes from Sanders’ foreign policy beliefs on trade. He has openly opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and is generally against free trade, which is a pretty unpopular opinion among scholars. In Snap Polls IV and XI, 70% of scholars said they supported the TPP, 80% supported NAFTA, and 94.6% supported Free Trade in general. In foreign policy analysis that is about as close to a consensus as you get. In International Relations and Economic theory, economic interconnectivity is one of the major incentives for peace, and scholars recognize that.

In last year’s Snap Poll, 78% of respondents indicated that they believe the respect America gets abroad is a matter of large importance, and 94% of respondents believe America’s respect in the world has diminished during the Trump presidency. Another prescient fear academics likely experience is that Sanders’ divisive views on domestic politics and controversial self-identification with democratic socialism will cast him as an ideologically driven but practically incapable Wilsonian who could further dampen the White House’s legitimacy abroad. At a time where our support is of critical importance in places like South East Asia and Iraqi Kurdistan, it makes sense that scholars would want to elect a candidate who has the ability to garner support (either from his own base or across the aisle) for intervention if necessary and the expertise required to know when to. In this light, a likeable candidate with foreign policy experience like Biden or Buttigieg would sensibly be a better option.

As Wednesday’s debate approaches, I hope the discussion of the candidate’s foreign policies does not end here. The more we discuss foreign policy, the more thoroughly we can analyze the viability of each of our candidates as future heads-of-state and commanders-in-chief, and the more we can remind the public of the importance of international relations experience.

Checking the Powers of the Presidency: Where Do We Go From Here?

By Moira Johnson

February 11th, 2020

2019 ended with a (gavel) bang. Before adjourning for the year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. President Trump now stands as only the third president in American history to have been impeached by Congress. While this is a rarity in our nation’s history, what is even more rare is the grounds on which Trump was impeached. 

The articles presented against the President, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, were related to the foreign policy powers of the office of the President. This moment in politics allows us to evaluate an ongoing trend and present possible paths to long term solutions to these issues. 

The articles against President Trump were pursued after a formal House inquiry found evidence that the President had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election to help his re-election bid and then obstructed the inquiry itself by telling members of the administration to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony. 

The situation at hand harkens back to a question that has been asked quite frequently as of late: Did Trump overstep the foreign policy powers of the presidency? Data from the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project shows that many International Relations (IR) scholars believe that Trump both overstepped and abused the foreign policy powers of the office.

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While many scholars and politicians alike claim that the Trump administration has made unprecedented choices, the problem of overstep is not unique to the Trump administration. Accusations of an “Imperial Presidency” have been put forth since the 1970s following the expansion of the powers of the Office of the President during the postwar era. Particularly in the 21st century, the Presidency is marked by increasing foreign policy powers, regardless of party affiliation. The foreign policy powers of the President are outlined in Article II of the Constitution, but there are gaps in power made murkier by historical precedents set forth in the U.S. Court System.

Over time, Congress ceded more and more of its power to check the Office of the Presidency on the issue of foreign policy, culminating in the current situation. Congress should take back its power to check the President, as it is legally able to so long as its members believe in the powers set forth by the Constitution. Transcending party lines in the interest of maintaining the core beliefs of this nation seems reasonable, as members of Congress have a duty to educate themselves on foreign policy issues in order to best serve the interests of their constituents and the nation. 

Looking forward, there are many contemporary foreign policy issues that Congress could use to start to regain power. For example, the Administration’s targeted killing of Iranian Major General Soleimani in January occurred without the knowledge or consent of high ranking members of Congress, who historically are at a minimum informed of any major military action, covert or otherwise, before it occurs. While the President is not required constitutionally to consult with Congress about the actions of the Armed Forces, the targeted killing of a high ranking Iranian official could be considered an act of war, thus making the act  fall under the jurisdiction of Congress. 

Another likely battleground for constraint could be on the issue of the US-China trade deal that was recently approved. While not a solid solution to the ongoing trade war between China and the U.S., the trade deal serves as an uneasy ceasefire between the two countries. Many have accused President Trump of having been unconstrained by either interest groups or Congress in the process of negotiating this deal. While the American Executive side of the deal pursues a better deal for farmers, it appears that the interests of American manufacturers, retailers, and consumers were largely ignored. Per Article I of the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. Lawmakers could make the case that they deserve to have more oversight into the negotiations of these agreements in order to better protect the interests of the American producers and consumers within their constituencies.