The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making

 

You’ve got to ask the question, what caused me to want to win?” George W. Bush, during his oral history for The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decision to Surge in Iraq

How does a president decide to send troops into battle? How does he or she weigh the contradictory, even conflicting advice from national security officials, military advisers, and those outside of government? Variations across time, individuals, and problems mean that Presidents have approached wartime decisions more like artists than engineers. They have drawn on bits of history, their interpretation of the national interest, and consideration of their fellow citizen’s views in making choices and crafting strategy.

Continue reading “The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making”

The Lost Art of Presidential Decision-Making

On Brand – the Fashion Choices of Hajj Amin al-Husayni

Yet again, the controversial Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husayni is making headlines. In May 2019, in a Washington post op-ed, Middle East studies scholar Dr. Maha Nassar addressed recent critics of US House Representative Rashida Tlaib, saying that ‘by citing the pro-Nazi propaganda of Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husayni to claim that “Palestinian leaders at the time sided with Hitler,” they conflate the statements and actions of a single individual with those of an entire people.’[1] This conflation is indeed a problem.

Notorious for siding with the Nazis during the Second World War and for his inclusion on the UN War Crimes Commission list, Husayni’s prewar career comes into focus in Statecraft by Stealth. When writing the book, I tried to address the Mufti’s prewar career without being unduly influenced by our knowledge of his collaboration with the Nazis. In fact, I argued that he showed little interest in the Nazis before the war. It is helpful to examine the beginning of Husayni’s career in order to better understand the events which led up to his disastrous choices of the 1940s.

Continue reading “On Brand – the Fashion Choices of Hajj Amin al-Husayni”

On Brand – the Fashion Choices of Hajj Amin al-Husayni

A Tank in Prague

Monuments have recently become focal points for debates about history, politics, and social justice. In the United States, protestors have called for the removal of statutes of Confederate leaders. In South Africa, students advocating for the “decolonization of education” have succeeded in having a statute of Cecil Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town. In Ukraine, a law about communist monuments has led to what Ukrainians dub “Leninopad”—the “Lenin fall”— most of the statutes of the Soviet leader have now been dismantled.

empire of friendsMy new book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia, begins and ends with a monument in Prague. The monument was a Soviet tank: it was erected in July 1945 by Soviet and Czechoslovak leaders to honor the Soviet army’s liberation of Prague from German occupation in World War II.

A tank on the streets of a Central European city is the paradigmatic symbol of the Soviet Union’s oppression of its Eastern bloc satellites during the Cold War. A Soviet tank in Prague on a summer’s day remains an especially indelible image of the USSR’s violent efforts to maintain control over its socialist empire in Europe. It calls to mind the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which crushed the country’s experiment in reform communism, known as the Prague Spring. In this familiar narrative of the superpower’s use of force against its satellite states, the 1945 monument to the Soviet Tank Crews in Prague is the foundation of Soviet hegemony in Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe.

Yet long before the tank monument became a quintessential symbol of Soviet hard power in Czechoslovakia and the rest of the Eastern bloc, it was part of an audacious but less well-known experiment in power of a different kind: the attempt by Soviet and Eastern European officials to use transnational “friendship” to create a cohesive “socialist world.” This experiment, which involved cultural diplomacy, interpersonal contacts, and the trade of consumer goods across national borders behind the Iron Curtain, linked citizens of the superpower and its satellites in an “empire of friends” that lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Empire of Friends tells the story of the rise and fall of this friendship project between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The book’s central argument is that Soviet power in Czechoslovakia and the other Eastern bloc countries constituted a new type of empire—an empire of friends. I use this term to highlight the paradoxes of the relationship: between high politics and the realm of everyday life, amity and violence, cultural exchange and authoritarianism, and hard and soft power. The Monument to the Soviet Tank Crews in Prague illustrates this paradox. The monument employed a tank—a symbol of military force—to connote Soviet liberation and friendship. Over the course of the following four and a half decades, the tank monument became the most iconic symbol of friendship between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Following the Soviet invasion in 1968, many Czechoslovaks came to see this symbol of soft power as a painful reminder of Soviet hard power. In the spring of 1991, in the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution, which brought an end to communism in Czechoslovakia, and not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a young Czech artist named David Černý undertook an act of political protest art. He painted the tank pink and stuck a giant model of a paper mache middle finger at its center. Protests that followed led the Czechoslovak government to move the offending monument to a military museum, where it remains today.


 

Rachel Applebaum is a historian of the Soviet Union, communist Eastern Europe, and the global Cold War. Her first book, Empire of Friends: Soviet Power and Socialist Internationalism in Cold War Czechoslovakia, is available for purchase, here

A Tank in Prague

What makes Pete Buttigieg such an effective communicator?

The biggest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign so far has been the rise of South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg from relative unknown to contender. People who hear him speak tend to come away impressed, and there are many possible reasons for this, including the fact that he just seems like a decent human being, which offers a refreshing contrast to the current president.

Mayor Pete also seems to have an intuitive grasp of effective framing, which means that he is good at describing ideas in a way that makes listeners agree with him. I am a cognitive scientist who studies the importance of framing in political discourse. In my new book, America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation, I discuss framing techniques that liberal politicians could use to make their policy proposals more palatable to conservative voters.

The first technique was pioneered by George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley who has published several excellent books arguing that the language used by politicians and pundits to describe policies plays a fundamental role in determining how those policies are perceived by people—because of the way that language activates the mind.

In other words, the way in which a policy is framed could induce agreeable or disagreeable mind states.

Lakoff believes that the popularity of the conservative worldview in contemporary America is due to the fact that conservatives are better framers than liberals. He believes that many people have biconceptual minds, meaning that they are capable of understanding both liberal and conservative value systems. However, the inner liberals of many biconceptual citizens have gone dormant and need to be reawakened—by consistent and persistent use of liberal frames by liberal politicians.

In America the Fair, I express skepticism about Lakoff’s technique and suggest that liberal frames do not work well on conservative minds. A more promising approach, pioneered by Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto and Robb Willer of Stanford University, recognizes that conservative minds are much more likely to be persuaded by arguments that are consistent with conservative morality. For example, environmental protections can be framed to conservatives as maintaining purity, and to liberals as protecting the defenseless.

This brings us back to Mayor Pete, who seems to understand conservative morality way better than most liberals. More impressively, he talks about liberal ideals using conservative language.

MEEGANThe most newsworthy example is the way he talks about his experience as a gay man. To conservative Christians who think that homosexuality is a choice, he challenges them using their language: “If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” About his marriage to his husband, Chasten, he says it has moved him “closer to God.”

Some of Buttigieg’s competitors for the Democratic nomination have proposed that college should be free to anyone who wants it. When he was asked recently about free college, he replied, “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidize a minority who earn more because they did.”

Notice how clever this is? He identifies himself as a progressive while using language that is reassuring to conservatives. When Mayor Pete talks about liberal ideas using conservative language, it rubs people the right way.


Daniel Meegan is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph, and the author of America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation. 
You can view and purchase his book, here.

UPCOMING EVENTS

May 1st, 2019 at 7pm: Book Launch with Daniel Meegan: America the Fair

 

What makes Pete Buttigieg such an effective communicator?

Mastering Natural History

One of my former Baja students wrote, just last week, with two exciting bits of news. First, now that she finally has a real job, she is buying a house in Billings, Montana.  Second, she is pursuing certification as a master naturalist. I wrote her back immediately.

Although it’s always exciting to learn that former students are acquiring mortgages and the other accoutrements of adulthood, I was intrigued by the news that she planned to become a master naturalist.

I must confess that, despite having taught natural history courses at the university level for a dozen years, I had no idea what qualifies one as a master naturalist. I got on the internet and searched for master naturalist programs, pleased to discover not only that such things exist, but that there is a fledgling organization, the  Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs, ANROSP, that networks naturalist and/or master naturalist training programs in 29 states.

In the days of yore my mother earned a bachelor’s degree in interpreting natural history at the University of Colorado. Does that sound a bit old school? These days, one interested in such things might pursue a course of studies in environmental education, and I know of at least one master’s program in that subject offered by Western Washington University. But even there, the question might be asked what qualifies one as a master naturalist.

In my recent book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, I mention that Harvard’s E. O. Wilson, one of the foremost naturalists at work today, writes of having once been instructed that he couldn’t call himself a naturalist until he had identified ten thousand species. Yikes. But even if Wilson’s counsel had been offered tongue-in-cheek, it dabbles with a real question of whether one can actually master natural history.

Experts could argue that the master would need such breadth of knowledge that it would take a lifetime to achieve sufficient depth to achieve mastery.

coves
In my next book, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, I make the case that we are just now entering into the golden age of natural history. Many will argue otherwise, however, because less and less natural history is being taught at the university level. This is especially true in biology departments, where expertise in organismal biology is being replaced by interests in molecular & cellular biology. At the same time, citizen science is producing a wealth of data related to natural history that could never have been collected, let alone processed, as recently as when I earned my bachelor’s degree. And now we have programs like the Montana Master Naturalist Program!

Even if I’m wrong about a forthcoming golden age of natural history—you’ll have to read the book to decide on that—it must be stipulated that natural history is occupying vibrant new niches everywhere one looks.

Here in Seattle, just a few days ago, more than 5,000 Amazon employees signed off on an open letter to the company’s board of directors that identified climate change as an existential threat. I doubt that many of the signatories of this letter would identify themselves as naturalists, let alone master naturalists, and yet the letter itself, which can be read HERE, is informed by a sophisticated understanding of ecology and natural history. I am encouraged by the shared belief, articulated in this letter, that “climate impact must be a top consideration in everything we do.”

Natural history relates directly and unambiguously to climate change. Indeed, the American Museum of Natural History recently opened a permanent display on climate change. The exhibit covers everything from corals to glaciers, forests to polar ice caps, and that’s a lot of natural history. And now what we need are a few more master naturalists to help us understand where we’re going with nature.


 

John Seibert Farnsworth, who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, is fast becoming a serial author with Comstock Publishing Associates. His first book, Coves of Departure: Field Notes from the Sea of Cortez, was released this past November. His second, Nature Beyond Solitude: Notes from the Field, will be published on March 15.

Mastering Natural History

Reframing Vaccination Controversies

Vaccines have saved millions of lives. The scourge of smallpox is gone from this planet, except for stockpiles kept in Siberia and Atlanta, and polio has almost been eradicated. Dangerous and burdensome diseases have been tamed, and child survival improved due to vaccines. Refusal of vaccination denies these historical and medical truths and puts all people at risk of infectious disease.

That’s one way to start a story about vaccine skepticism. Here’s another:

Ever since there have been vaccines, there has been vaccine dissent. Themes in antivaccination protest are remarkably cohesive: impure vaccine ingredients, physician and corporate greed, potential ill effects, and threats to bodily integrity animate historical and contemporary concerns. While significant majorities accept vaccination regimes across the globe, determined minorities rely on a variety of belief systems and evidence to support their claims that vaccines are damaging to individuals, populations, and the planet.

The first narrative initiates a story that only flows one way—toward excoriation of those who cannot, for whatever reason, see the truth. The next sentence in the story is some version of this one: Vaccine dissent is essentially selfish, foolish, and irrational.

The second narrative offers a more open-ended opportunity, but currently, in the United States and elsewhere, only the first is allowable. Try to argue that beliefs about vaccination are complex and socially contextual, or even that people’s individual beliefs matter when it comes to vaccination, and you will be targeted as an antivaxxer. Vaccine hesitant parents are vilified and ridiculed in the media; well-founded concerns about the political impact of strict vaccine mandates are automatically criticized; and any suggestion that vaccination policies and requirements could be adjusted in response to public concerns is labeled science denial.

What is going on? In the 1990s, major news outlets in the U.S. reported evenhandedly about parental worries about thimerosal, a mercury-containing vaccine preservative in use since the 1930s. In the 2000s, though, as mainstream consensus coalesced around the lack of a connection between vaccines and autism, reporting on vaccination shifted to a more critical stance toward those who still questioned vaccine safety. After 2006 and the roll-out of Gardasil, an HPV vaccine marketed to prevent cervical cancer (whose maker, Merck, lobbied for state-level mandates, angering Christian conservatives who objected to a school-entry mandate for a vaccine against a sexually-transmitted disease), it became commonplace to see inflammatory news reporting in traditionally reliable outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy tries to reorient public debate around vaccination by reminding us that there are numerous currents in American culture that share the concerns of vaccine skeptics. In the book I try to change the way we tell the story of vaccine dissent, much like a recent New York Times article that identifies poverty, political and social unrest, international travel, and geographical barriers as significant deterrents to comprehensive measles vaccination coverage globally.

Vaccine dissent is only one factor affecting current measles outbreaks in the U.S., and probably not the most important one. Balanced reporting about vaccination and infectious disease can illuminate the highly complex context in which modern medical efforts often conflict with local traditions, personal and community beliefs, and political realities in the context of globalization.

antivax

The way we tell stories matter. Storytelling can open up or shut down meaningful conversation. We are at a time in American history when talking across barriers of belief, ideology, and cultural identification are more important than ever. Vaccination controversy, and the contentious public debate that envelops it, is just one element in an increasingly polarized cultural conversation about what binds us and divides us as a nation.

We need to craft vaccination stories that differ from the inflammatory, accusatory, and vilifying narratives that we have created across social media and more traditional news platforms. Understanding vaccination controversy more deeply, with more attention to the features it shares with other cultural concerns, is one way to start.


Bernice L. Hausman is professor of humanities and public health sciences and chair of humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. The author of four single-author studies of medical controversies (including Anti/Vax), she has a background in women’s studies, literary and critical theory, and the medical humanities. 

You can purchase Anti/Vax: Reframing the Vaccination Controversy, here


Featured blog post image: ‘The Public Vaccinator’ by Lance Calkin. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

Reframing Vaccination Controversies

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is in crisis. NATO is one of the most successful and longest-lasting military alliances in history.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

A glance at news headlines from any of the last seven decades might leave you thinking NATO has been in a perpetual state of crisis since its origins in 1949. And yet, time and time again, the Presidents and Prime Ministers of NATO states have decided that NATO should – indeed must – remain in existence. What explains this cycle of crises accompanied by determination to keep NATO together? How can every generation’s pundits write headlines warning of the imminent demise of the alliance, while its leaders insist that the alliance must continue?

sayle

The answer to the riddle lies in the fact that many of NATO’s largest and most important powers were led by governments that relied on public support for their political power. This led to what I call in Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order the “dangers of democracy.” It was these dangers that help us why NATO leaders thought the alliance was necessary but also why they constantly fretted about its future.

The leaders who formed and maintained NATO did so because they thought the alliance would protect members from being blackmailed by the Soviet Union. In the late 1940s, the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin argued that the Soviet Union would use its military and political power to compel other states to act as Moscow wished. The “Russians,” as Bevin called them, “seem to be fairly confident of getting the fruits of war without going to war.” Soviet pressure on Finland, in which Moscow gained significant influence in the shaping of Finland’s foreign policies, offered an example of how this might happen. A Soviet ultimatum to Norway, and later a coup in Czechoslovakia, suggested that the Soviets would gain influence in Europe by picking off one state at a time. In the aftermath of the Second World War, it seemed likely that Europeans, cajoled or bullied by the Soviet Union, would urge their leaders to give in to any Soviet demands rather than risk confrontation. George F. Kennan, the famous American diplomat and expert on the Soviet Union, explained this fear eloquently when he said that “it is the shadows rather than the substance of things that move the hearts, and sway the deeds, of statesmen.” And the Kremlin cast long shadows.

NATO offered a solution.

NATO’s integrated military commands were never so much about being able to defend against the Soviet Union in case of war, but in cancelling out the Soviet Union’s ability to influence and compel European states to do what Moscow wished. Ideally, NATO would ensure that the Soviet Union would not bother trying to pressure an ally. But if a crisis came, NATO’s military capability had to be real enough to ensure that leaders could convince their citizens they did not have to give in. The alternative would be for frightened voters to pressure their leaders – be it through elections or other public protest – to give into Soviet demands. NATO insured against one danger of democracy – a panicked electorate faced with crisis – that might have otherwise allowed for the “Finlandization” of more European states.

The NATO leaders’ other worry, however, was that in times of peace, or even cold war, their electorates were not interested in maintaining the defense spending on which NATO relied.

Periods of détente with the Soviet Union seemed to strip away the rationale for NATO. The public reaction to the Vietnam War in both the United States and Europe caused allies to wonder whether there had been an outright rejection of the military instrument of foreign policy. These worries were amplified in the 1970s and 1980s as some protesters challenged NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons.

NATO’s champion believed the alliance prevented crises and would allow them to prevail if one did occur.

They also believed that NATO worked, in a sense, too well – that it caused their voters to forget why NATO was important. On its 70th anniversary, the greatest challenge to the alliance may be an American president who ignores these nuances and does not understand the power of shadows.

 


About the author of this blog post: Timothy Andrews Sayle is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History. He is the author of Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order, and the editor, with Jeffrey A. Engel, Hal Brands, and William Inboden of The Last Card: Inside George W. Bush’s Decisions to Surge in Iraq, forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

NATO and the Dangers of Democracy