The Iowa Journey: Surviving the College Experience

by Madison Creery (2017 BS International Relations and BA Political Science)

For all the students who are graduating, a moment to reflect on all that the Iowa experience as brought us:

When we started our Iowa journey, the greatest struggles in our lives were finding out where our classes were (apparently not all of them are on the Pentacrest), making friends the old fashioned way (college students are way too broke to pay for them), and trying to keep our breathing under control after climbing “the hill” by the IMU. When we finally made it to senior year, we were seasoned warriors, able to write a 10-page paper in a single night…with only two thoughts of dropping out. As seniors, we tried our best to bestow our wealth of knowledge on those younger, more naïve than us. Yet, when we saw high school tour groups, our looks of sleep-deprivation and silent pleas for help did not seem to deter them.

As seniors, we have endured the awkward, first day of class icebreakers, where we would rather chew off our left arm than tell the class our major, year in school, and hometown. We survived this year’s election, where the true winner was the Obama and Joe Biden memes. We’ve also wasted hours getting lost on the wrong cambus: Remember, “Blue to Burge,” “Red to Rienow.” As seniors, we have suffered through group projects (the reason we have trust issues), residence halls, and dreaded 8 AM classes.

To make it through college, we’ve each adopted our own coping technique. Some take well-deserved Netflix breaks after studying for five minutes. Others have adopted the Star Wars chant: “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me. I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” We have become the class that avoids face-to-face conversations, but can speak fluently in memes. We are the class that can walk confidently in front of a cambus without flinching, but will forever be heartbroken over the death of a gorilla. Rest in peace, Harambe. Despite our best efforts to stay young and carefree, at some point in our four-year span, we grew up.

We became a member of the Hawkeye family, taking part in campus traditions and memories that will be with us for a lifetime. Though it may not seem like it now, we’re going to miss our time here at Iowa. Storming the field after beating Michigan, yelling “On Iowa!” and always getting a “Go Hawks!” response, and the student discounts at downtown restaurants. We’ll miss Chuck’s “Big Turkey Legs!” at home football games, as well as sitting in the student section (where no one ever sits). Although some may say that college being the best years of our lives is simply an “alternative fact” . . . there is truth to that.

The University of Iowa has helped educate a class with ambitions to change the world. While some of us are going off to graduate school, the workforce, to serve our nation, or to take time to discover themselves, we’ll always have Iowa to come back to. The Giant Sloth at the museum, the Nile Kinnick statue, and Black and Gold Fridays will be here for us (and we can always get a freshman to let us use a guest swipe to eat in the dining hall again – admit it, you miss Burge). Remember, once a Hawkeye, always a Hawkeye. There are many memories we have made here, with our professors, with our classmates, and especially with our friends. If you are to take anything away from your Iowa experience, it’s this: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Once graduation is done, and our tassels make their way to the other side, we’ll finally be alumni of the University of Iowa. Even Ashton Kutcher didn’t do that! Yet, he is now ridiculously successful . . ., famous . . ., and rich. You know what? Why did we finish college?

Okay, that’s beside the point . . . before we graduate and head off in our own directions on the next step of our lives, we need to take these last few moments remaining to us to remember just what we have accomplished, what we have learned, what we have survived . . . and what we will never forget. We will always be an Iowa Hawkeye.



A Call To Service

by Rachel Zuckerman, 2017 BA Political Science and Journalism

I know I’m biased, but I think political science students are some of the best there are.

We’ve been called to understand the world around us—our government, the politics that control our world, and the people who occupy it.

In almost all cases we also have some type of inherent desire to serve.

If you are graduating with a political science degree, you have successfully fought off all peer-pressure to change your major to business for a more lucrative career. Despite the dread of a getting a post-grad job with an abysmally low starting salary, something has kept you here.

I believe, for most of us, that is a call to service. I hope you will answer that call.

This past year I had the incredible opportunity to represent over 20,000 UI undergraduate students as your Student Body President. My biggest takeaway from this year of service is that we need more young people at the table making decisions about the issues that affect our lives.

My fellow graduates, you are about to enter the “real world” with a degree from a stellar university, a résumé of experiences from your time at Iowa, and a passionate energy to serve. This is a recipe for endless potential. Please make the most of it. Wherever your next steps take you, I hope you feel empowered to make your voice heard. Your voice, service, and leadership is needed in our world.

Best wishes to you for what is ahead!

Political Science Conferences

By Professor Menninga

Ever wonder what your professors are actually doing when they attend a conference? The majority of the faculty recently attended the Annual Convention of the Midwest Political Science Association. The majority of the IR faculty at Iowa recently flew to Baltimore for the International Studies Association (ISA) annual convention. Here’s a look at what my ISA looked like:

Wednesday: Arrive in Baltimore. The conference is already underway!

  • After getting rear ended on the way to the hotel, I get checked in and head to my first conference activity: WICS (women in conflict studies) networking hour. This is just an informal opportunity to meet other female scholars studying war. I got to catch up with some old friends and made a few new ones. I met several European scholars looking at civil conflict from a more comparative perspective. We had an interesting conversation about how our research interests overlapped, and I got some ideas for how to think about mediation from a new direction.
  • Dinner and then back to the hotel to rest up for my presentation tomorrow morning (and practice a few more times!).

Thursday: Present!

  • I presented a paper with Prof. Lindsay Reid (another Carolina PhD now at UC-Davis) on a panel focused on mediation in civil wars (titled “Negotiations, Conflict Resolution, and Post-Conflict Outcomes”). Our paper focused on the role mediators play in shaping the terms of peace agreements. Our fellow panelists presented really interesting new research as well! Topics ranged from human rights (asking why some countries sign treaties they don’t abide by and why other countries abide by treaties they haven’t signed) to land reform provisions in peace agreements to thinking about how the international community can shape post-conflict peace and stability.  We received useful feedback on our project and got to see what others are working on in the field as well. Overall an excellent panel!
  • After the panel, Lindsay and I met up with other mediation scholars to discuss mediation data and its limitations over lunch. We brainstormed variables we wish we had and strategies for getting that data. We didn’t solve all of the data problems in one lunch, but we kick started a conversation that has continued by email and is hopefully turning into a workshop in October.
  • After talking data, I met with a colleague to talk methods! He introduced me to a new machine learning technique called “Positive and unlabeled case learning” that will hopefully help advance parts of my research on multiparty mediation onset. Since then I’ve been reading about PU learning, mainly from a professor at the Univ. of Illinois Chicago.
  • The rest of my Thursday was less structured, opening up time to go see other panels and see what other scholars are working on these days. You can peruse the entire program here. 281 pages of panels on every IR topic you can imagine!


  • Throughout the morning I started two new projects. First, I’m contributing to an edited book project on international crises. I’ve also been looking for ways to apply network analysis to new areas of international relations. My second new project looks at identifying communities in international economic networks. These projects will continue by email and Skype, but getting them started in person was much easier. I’m excited to see how these projects develop!
  • Friday evening brought the Scientific Study of International Processes (a subsection of ISA of which I am a member) business meeting (yes, business meetings are about as exciting as you’d imagine). Right after the meeting is always the poster session and reception. Poster sessions are always fun! You get to walk around and see what scholars are working on. You can learn a lot from a couple of minutes spent at a poster, reading the text and talking to its owner. Partnering the poster session with some snacks brings in a larger crowd and provides another opportunity to catch up with colleagues before we all go back to our corners of the world.

Saturday: Catch my 5:50 am flight out of BWI.

(Professor Menninga is teaching POLI:1500 Introduction to International Relations in the Fall 2017 semester)

How Should the U.S. Deal with Russia? It Depends. Are you a Realist or an Idealist?

by Professor Reisinger

Russia has returned to being a top concern of American foreign policy. We want to know: Is it tampering with U.S. elections? With elections in Europe? Is it thwarting the U.S. in Syria and the Middle East? Does its close ties with China undercut U.S. influence? And, conversely, might better ties with Russia help U.S. interests vis-à-vis Europe, the Middle East and/or China? Questions like these are receiving abundant attention from policymakers, academics, think tanks and journalists.

 To understand the ongoing debate‑‑and also to come to your own opinion‑‑it helps to go back to a major, longstanding divide in views about international relations: idealism versus realism. Realists see the world as made up of countries (states) that must defend themselves against attack and therefore must always be looking to enhance their strength. The purpose of any state’s foreign policy is to take actions or strike deals that make the state stronger. Neither international principles nor law can substitute for states looking out for their own interests. Idealists, by contrast, believe that foreign policy can be principled. Even without a worldwide government, shared international principles and rules can benefit those who follow them, and those benefits will outweigh the restrictions the principles and rules impose. It can make sense for a country to refrain from doing something it would otherwise do because it wants other countries also to obey the rules.

 The American foreign-policy establishment is, and has long been, divided between idealists and realists. Not surprisingly, American foreign policy has swung between realist and idealist impulses. Much of the architecture of today’s world order would be absent if not for American leadership: international organizations, human rights standards, treaties on global trade and finance and more. Many twentieth-century U.S. presidents of both parties have made it a principle to prefer alliances with democracies, bolstered in recent decades by evidence that pairs of democracies rarely go to war. America has made possible much of what idealists value about our world. Frequently, however, when it faces a strong security need, the U.S. has taken actions that conflict with the principles it espouses. Foreign aid sent to nasty dictators or military interventions are easy to defend for a realist‑‑even as idealists fear such actions will show America to be hypocritical when it supports democracy, human rights and other international principles. President Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for the idealism he expressed at a time when the world was weary of more realism-based U.S. actions under President Bush. Yet, in a very American way, Obama’s foreign policy ended up a mix of idealistic and realistic elements.

 If America’s elite is divided about what kind of world it wants, Russia’s is not. Russian foreign policy under Vladimir Putin operates according to realist tenets, It focuses on expanding Russian power and reducing the constraints that come from international principles. Those principles, from Russia’s perspective, were devised by the U.S. and other rich liberal democracies to benefit themselves. Being realists, Russia’s leaders view a rule-based international order as designed to thwart rising great powers. (Russia’s elite shares this perspective with the Chinese.) Russians believe strongly that they are and must be a great power, that their country’s size, resources and past accomplishments make this a fact. In their view, great powers should treat other great powers with respect. Respect means not criticizing Russia’s authoritarianism. It means acknowledging a Russian sphere of influence around its borders, without denouncing Russia when it intervenes in a neighboring country. It means seeking Russia’s input when an international crisis breaks out. As a model, Russians look to the “Concert of Europe,” which was negotiated after Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. The four major powers of the time agreed to maintain a balance of power, prevent revolutions and respect spheres of influence. It kept Europe relatively peaceful for several decades.

 How, then, should the U.S. deal with Russia? Well, first, do you believe the U.S. should lead efforts to promote a world order governed by rules applicable to strong states as well as weak ones, do you want countries to operate as members of an international community that tries to prevent mass killings or other human rights violations, do you want the U.S. to use its military only when doing so clearly fits with international laws or norms? Or, do you have qualms about the objectives that idealists put forth? Would you give priority to America pursuing its national interests and power in the best way it can, choosing allies based on geopolitical considerations without regard for democracy or possible shared values?

 If you are drawn to the first vision, it is important that the U.S. continue to criticize Russia for violating a key principle when it annexed Crimea, for threatening its neighbors and for its authoritarianism. American officials should maintain lines of communication but maintain the sanctions that were imposed after Crimea until Russia changes its behavior. Similarly, the U.S. should work to strengthen its ties with the allies who share such values as democracy and human rights, and should work to strengthen international rules in areas such as trade and the environment.

 If you of a more realist bent, then you can consider various departures from current policy toward Russia. If judged solely in terms of U.S. security rather than territorial integrity, Russian control of Crimea matters little, and the sanctions may not be worth the effort. By dropping U.S. objections to Assad’s brutal regime in Syria, the U.S. might gain Russian cooperation against ISIL and more broadly in the Middle East. If China’s growing strength constitutes the real challenge to America’s interests, then an alliance with Russia, hard to imagine right now, might be the best response.

 In sum, how you want America to interact with Russia depends on how you want American to behave more generally and on what kind of world you want to live in.

[If you want to know more about this topic, Professor Reisinger is teaching a class on Russian Foreign Policy in the Fall 2017 Semester]

A Semester Abroad as a Political Science Major

by Jennifer Chavez Rivera, BA Political Science 2017

I spent the fall semester of my senior year in warm, sunny Alicante, España… and it was AMAZING. Although I spent a lot of time at the beach, airports and exploring several different countries, I was also able to learn a lot about the Spanish Government and the European Union. It was definitely an interesting time to be living in Spain, as they technically had not had an official president nor government in place for several months. The Spanish citizens had been through two voting sessions and were anticipating a third one because the main parties in Spain’s political system could not agree on a candidate to preside over their parliament. In the meantime, Spain’s former President Mariano Rajoy was filling the role of president without any authority and was ultimately voted back into power (you might have thought the U.S. was the only country having a bumpy ride leading up to the presidential elections… definitely not the case!).

One of the courses I took through the USAC program at La Universidad de Alicante was titled “Political and Economic Institutions of the European Union”. This course focused on the main institutions within the European Union along with learning about the history behind it. As the course content unfolded, it was interesting to use our Brexit discussions to predict the results of the U.S. presidential election. The professor was very curious to hear how we felt about American Politics at the time as much as we were curious about the impact of Brexit. One of my favorite parts of this course was our field trip to EUIPO which is the European Union Intellectual Property Office. Surprisingly enough, we learned about trademarks and marketing in a very entertaining manner. It was nice to tour and learn about such a critical institution in the European Union, which was located alongside the Mediterranean coast of Alicante.

jenny1                     jenny2



Last but not least, it was very common to have people personally ask, “So how do you feel about Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton?” several times a week. Although many people do not enjoy talking about politics with others, it was interesting to discuss them with Spanish locals. They certainly had a lot to say about their perception of the U.S. election. Additionally, I appreciated the fact that we heard various points of view around the different European countries we visited. The narratives within the major newspapers were also very intriguing. Another interesting topic to discuss and compare viewpoints on was regarding refugees and immigrants in the EU. There were certainly people on both sides of the issue, however it was rather appalling to identify which countries were more openly in favor of allowing refugees into their home. For example, Madrid, España had a large banner saying “REFUGEES WELCOME” outside one of their governmental buildings.




I am very happy I decided to study abroad. It is probably the best experience I have had and if I could do it over again, I would—except this time I would do it for an entire academic year. Although my course schedule was not heavily based on political science courses, I engaged in political science-type topics in my day-to-day activities and gained so much knowledge about politics outside of the United States. These experiences have put my academic career into perspective and have reassured my interest in political science. I strongly encourage all students to check out the different study abroad programs available through the University of Iowa, there are certainly some political science based programs as well!





Filling Scalia’s Seat

by Professor Hagle

Last week it was announced that the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch to be the next member of the US Supreme Court would be held (or begin) on March 20.  With those hearings about a month away it seems a good time to consider what we can expect from the hearings.  It should be no surprise that the hearings are likely to be very political.  To explain why it is worth taking a brief look back at how we got to this point of intense partisanship regarding judges, and particularly the confirmation of justices to the Supreme Court.

220px-samuel_chase(Associate Justice Samuel Chase)

It’s certainly not new for there to be partisan politics regarding the Supreme Court.  In 1804 the US House of Representatives impeached Justice Samuel Chase.  Although Chase had “an abrasive personality,” to put it politely, a part of his impeachment stemmed from a desire on the part of President Jefferson’s party to remove a Federalist from the bench.  (Chase was acquitted of the impeachment charges, so not removed from office.)  In the mid-1860s a Republican Congress kept President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, from appointing anyone to the Supreme Court by reducing the number of justices on the Court as justices retired or died.  A more familiar example might be the court packing plan of President Franklin Roosevelt.  FDR was unhappy that the Supreme Court kept declaring New Deal legislation unconstitutional and proposed a plan to add enough justices to the Court so that he would have a majority in favor of his legislative agenda.

These and other famous examples tend to involve the Court itself or particular justices.  Although there have always been political considerations in the nomination and confirmation of justices as well, the process changed dramatically with the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987.

robert_bork (Robert Bork)

Bork earned his law degree from the University of Chicago and had been a law professor, the Solicitor General of the US, and a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  In terms of his legal training and experience he was certainly qualified to be a justice of the Supreme Court.  Politically, however, the Democrats in the Senate found him far from acceptable.  This was partly due to his role in the Watergate investigation when, as Acting Attorney General, he fired the Special Prosecutor.  It was also due to his judicial philosophy, his academic writings, and because of some cases he had worked on.

Even before Bork was nominated Senate Democrats were working to consolidate opposition to anyone they would consider an ideological extremist.  For them, Bork was in that category.  On the day Bork’s nomination was announced then-Senator Edward Kennedy gave what has come to be known as the “Bork’s America” speech.  As you might guess, the speech was a full-throated attack on Bork and it helped to solidify the opposition to his nomination.  Bork and the Reagan administration were unprepared for the tactics used against Bork and the nomination failed.

Again, political partisanship was not new to judicial politics, but it reached a new level with the Bork nomination.  In addition, it was first set of Supreme Court confirmation hearings where television played an important role.  Because of the controversy, more people watched the confirmation hearings, which also meant that many of the Senators were playing to the cameras.

As a result of Bork’s failed nomination, over the next 20 or so years nominations to the Supreme Court became increasingly politicized.  The confirmation process became even more of a public relations campaign and the hearings became less about the nominee and more about finding ways to score political points.

For the most part, partisan fights over judicial nominees focused on the Supreme Court.  This changed somewhat during the administration of President George W. Bush when Senate Democrats help up several of his nominees to the federal courts of appeal.  Some thought that blocking these nominees would prevent Bush from giving them some judicial experience, which would make them better candidates should a vacancy occur on the Supreme Court.  Another possible reason for blocking these nominees was to signal to any justices on the Court that they shouldn’t retire as there would be a major political fight over their replacements.  We might have expected one or two of the conservative justices to have retired during the first term of the Bush administration, but none did, so perhaps the strategy worked.

Bush eventually got two nominees on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, but there was substantial resistance on the part of Senate Democrats to both.  In President Obama’s first term he also got two nominees on the Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  Previously, Senate Republicans had offered little resistance to liberal nominees (e.g., Breyer and Ginsburg), but now started to be more willing to vote against such nominees on political grounds.  Even so, both Sotomayor and Kagan were easily confirmed.

That brings us to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia during the last year of Obama’s administration.  Scalia’s unexpected death provided Obama with an opportunity to replace one of the Court’s solid conservatives with a liberal.  In terms of ideology, the Court had four liberals and five conservatives with Scalia, though Kennedy has voted with the liberals on several key issues.  Thus, replacing Scalia with another liberal would give the left a solid majority on the Court.  Not surprisingly, Senate Republicans were not happy about this and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly indicated that no Obama nominee would be confirmed by the Senate.  The Senate certainly could not stop the president from nominating someone, though McConnell’s suggestion infuriated Senate Democrats.  Eventually, Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, but Senate Republicans indicated that they would not even hold hearings for him, let alone have a vote.

Aside from the partisan politics, the gamesmanship in this is interesting.  Garland was actually a fairly moderate pick by Obama.  Garland had apparently been on the short list for the nomination that went to Sotomayor.  Of the several people on that list, Garland would have been the most acceptable to Senate Republicans.  Of course, from the Republicans’ perspective, a moderate liberal is still a liberal and would be replacing the right’s favorite conservative justice.  By nominating Garland instead of a more liberal person Obama made it harder for the Senate Republicans to reject him.  Republicans countered by not even engaging in the discussion of Garland’s qualifications, which they would have had to do had they held hearings for him.

As much as it was unprecedented for the Senate to keep a seat on the Supreme Court open for so long, it wasn’t that unusual for the Court to have fewer than nine members (it actually started with five in the late 1700s).  It’s also not unusual for the current Court to have fewer than nine members participating given that some justices do not participate in some cases due to illness or conflicts of interest.  It’s unfortunate that a few cases might end up in tie votes, which means the lower court case is automatically affirmed, but it happens.

To defend themselves against criticisms of rank partisanship for not even holding hearings on Garland, Senate Republicans invoked the “Biden Rule.”  In a speech in 1992 then-Senator Joe Biden suggested that if any vacancies occurred on the Supreme Court that they should not be filled until after the presidential election that year.  As a Democrat, Biden certainly preferred to have any vacancies filled by the Democrats’ presidential nominee Bill Clinton were he to win the election, which of course he did.  No vacancies occurred that year, so the rule wasn’t put to the test, but the fact Democrats were willing to consider it in 1992 gave some cover to Republicans in 2016.

Another aspect to the gamesmanship was that unlike 1992 where the elder Bush could have won reelection in 2016 there would be a new president elected.  At the time of Scalia’s death it was fairly clear that Hillary Clinton would be the Democrats’ presidential nominee.  Donald Trump still wasn’t being taken all that seriously.  Thus, Senate Republicans probably thought that there would be a Republican president in 2017 to fill the vacancy.  As time when on, and it was clear Trump would be the Republican nominee, nearly everyone thought Clinton would win the election.  Even so, Senate Republicans continued to say that the next president should have the choice of a nominee.  That might have softened some of the criticism for leaving the seat vacant as allowing Clinton to fill it likely would have meant a more liberal nominee than Garland.

The big surprise, of course, was that Trump won the election and has now nominated Neil Gorsuch for the seat.

The strategy of Senate Republican may have worked in terms of getting an agreeable nominee, but the fight is far from over.  Although Gorsuch seems to be extremely well qualified from a legal perspective, Democrats will still put up a fight.  Thus far they haven’t attacked him much in terms of his ideology or rulings, though we can expect to hear the phrase “out of the mainstream of judicial thought” a lot as we get closer to the hearings and vote.

Aside from criticizing Gorsuch on his ideology and judicial philosophy, Democrats are still smarting over Garland not even getting a hearing and some have vowed to oppose him on that ground alone.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has justified this opposition by noting that the Republicans do not come to the table with “clean hands.”  In other words, he wants to do to Gorsuch what the Republicans did to Garland.  That’s understandable, but Democrats have an even flimsier ground to stand on than Republicans did given that Trump is in the first year of his term, so there is no Biden Rule or excuse of being in a presidential election year to justify their opposition.

Of course, Republicans still control the Senate, so Democrats won’t be able to prevent hearings for Gorsuch.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will likely recommend his confirmation to the full Senate on a party line vote.

Gorsuch will get a vote in the full Senate and will likely be confirmed, but how that occurs is still in question.  The reason is that unlike for most other presidential nominees, those to the Supreme Court still require a vote of 60 Senators to end debate.  This is called a cloture vote.  The 60-vote requirement to end debate was just a Senate rule and, interestingly enough, could be changed with just a majority vote in the Senate.  When Republicans were holding up some of Obama’s nominees then-Majority Leader Harry Reid used what was called the “nuclear option” to change the requirement to a simple majority vote for such nominees except those to the Supreme Court.

Thus, as it stands right now there would need to be 60 votes to end debate on the Gorsuch nomination.  The Republicans only hold 52 seats in the Senate.  That means eight Democrats (or the Independents who caucus with them) would need to at least vote to end debate even if they didn’t then vote to confirm Gorsuch.  Several Senate Democrats have suggested that Gorsuch should have an up or down vote, but it’s not clear they would actually vote to end debate, particularly given that it would effectively be a vote to put Gorsuch on the Court even if they voted against him later.  If not enough Democrats are willing to vote to end debate then Senate Republicans may have to invoke the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominations as well.  McConnell has not indicated that he would be willing to do so, but he has also said quite clearly that Gorsuch will be confirmed.

Republicans certainly didn’t like it when Democrats used the nuclear option, but they have also benefitted greatly from it to get several of Trump’s cabinet nominees approved.  Even so, Republicans may be somewhat wary about using it for Supreme Court nominees as they may be concerned that allowing a simple majority vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees would be used in the future to put extremely liberal nominees of a future president on the Court.  On the other hand, given the willingness of Senate Democrats to use the nuclear option in the first place, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t do so in the future if Senate Republicans tried to block the nominee of a Democrat.

Here’s one more thing to consider.  As much as Senate Democrats are mad about how Garland was treated and want to do what they can to frustrate Trump, Gorsuch replacing Scalia would just be one conservative replacing another.  It’s true that Gorsuch could serve for many years, but he wouldn’t change the ideological balance on the Supreme Court.  Democrats might not want to expend all their energy on the Gorsuch confirmation and get the Republicans to invoke the nuclear option just yet.  The bigger fight may come later when justices such as Ginsburg, Breyer, or Kennedy (all approaching or over 80 years old) may leave the Court.  Replacing any of those three would change the ideological balance on the Court and would be a more important fight for Democrats to have.

(Professor Hagle will be teaching POLI:3101 Ameican Constitutional Law and Politics and POLI:3121 The Judicial Process in the Fall 2017 semester)




Language policy and ethnic conflict in China

by Professor Tang

(This has been previously posted here)

Ethnic conflict has been on the rise in recent years in China, despite Chinese media portrayals of ethnic harmony. One commonly cited reason for such conflict by Western observers is economic inequality between the Han majority and the ethnic minorities. However, such inequality and the subsequent ethnic tension are a result of China’s state-sponsored affirmative action programs, and particularly the failure of its language policy.

Many Western observers take China’s cultural chauvinism for granted and frequently condemn China’s ethnic policies, among them forcing minority students to learn Chinese. Yet my observations based on travels in recent years in Xinjiang and Tibet, combined with other evidence collected in the course of my research, suggest that China’s ethnic language policy is far from being too restrictive. For instance, during a recent trip to an elementary school at the Base Camp of Mt. Everest in Dingri, Tibet, I noticed that the math class was taught in Tibetan. The principle of the school told me that Mandarin was supposed to be the teaching language but it was not enforced because the school did not have enough teachers who spoke Mandarin. The 2010 Chinese General Social Survey conducted by Renmin University found that the levels of education for Han and Uyghur respondents were the same: Both groups had an average of about 7 years of school education. But the Uygurs’ Mandarin proficiency was only 20% compared to the Han average of 100%. In other words, my inference is that while both groups were equally educated, the minorities were being educated in their own languages for the most part.

In addition to the shortage of Mandarin speaking teachers, another reason for minority regions’ Mandarin deficiency is the problem of bureaucratic turf war. For example, in the Education Law, all schools are required to use Mandarin as the language of instruction, while the Ethnic Autonomy Law encourages the use of ethnic languages in education. The inconsistency of language policy is also reflected in China’s policy toward the written form of the Uyghur language. In 1959, China decided to implement the use of the English alphabets in Xinjiang. Such a policy provided a common ground for Mandarin and Uyghur speakers, at least in the form of pinyin. In 1982, in the wave of reversing many of the Mao’s policies in the Cultural Revolution, China decided to abandon the English alphabets and return to the Arabic script. This policy temporarily satisfied some Uyghur intellectuals’ desire for ethnic equality but planted another seed for ethnic separatism.

Similar to many other multiethnic regions in the world, China also has a bilingual education policy. But in China’s bilingual education, ethnic languages are the teaching language and Mandarin is the second or foreign language, which is often neglected when the resources are limited. In contrast, in a country like Singapore, English is the language of instruction and ethnic languages such as Chinese, Tamil and Malay are taught as the second language.

The failure to teach Mandarin has created a serious barrier for minority students to get ahead in an economic environment dominated by the Mandarin speaking population. The emphasis on ethnic language education strengthened the group identity by ethnic minorities, who are accustomed to the idea of ethnic equality under the official propaganda. When they can’t find jobs, they naturally attribute such failure to being a member of their ethnicity and blame the government and society for discrimination. In contrast, in a market economic environment that encourages individual competition, people blame themselves for not having the necessary skills to succeed. Due to their Mandarin language deficiency, minority students are disadvantaged when they graduate from high school. They typically spend at least one extra year in college to catch up with their Mandarin proficiency, further falling behind their Han counterparts. In the labour market, they face the same difficulty in getting well paid jobs. In one recent trip to Turfan in Xinjiang, I met a Uyghur young man who just graduated from China Agriculture University in Beijing, majoring in meteorology. He complained to me in not very fluent Mandarin about not being able to find a job at the local meteorology bureau because, according to him, he was discriminated against. It is impossible to say if that is the case or not, but certainly he would have had a better chance if his Mandarin was more fluent.

In summary, China’s overly lenient language policy has resulted in minority students being less likely to go to college and to find good jobs. Their income is lower than the Han majority. Consequently, they become angry and blame the problem as discrimination. To solve this problem, promoting Mandarin education should be the first step. Admittedly, such a solution will face more fury from those who are already critical of China’s ethnic policies. Ultimately, it is a tradeoff between keeping ethnic languagse and cultural identity and improving the economic opportunities and conditions for minorities.

(Professor Tang will teach Introduction to Asian Politics: China in the Fall 17 semester)

Trump vs. Iran

by Professor Grossman

(this was previously posted at the Arcmag)


Iran presents a challenge for the incoming president. Donald Trump denounced the Iranian nuclear deal and stocked his administration with Iran hawks, indicating a confrontational approach. However, he also expressed a desire to partner with Russia in Syria, which means supporting Iran’s ally Bashar al-Assad. Balancing these conflicting goals will shape Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

The president-elect called the 2015 agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany) the “worst deal ever negotiated.” But the United States gains nothing if he rips it up now.

Fulfilling its primary obligations, Iran sharply reduced its stockpiles of enriched uranium, reduced its ability to enrich more, and poured concrete into its one plutonium-producing reactor. IAEA inspectors and various intelligence agencies agree: Iran is now further from nuclear breakout than it has been in years.

However, critics point out that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire in 10–20 years (depending on the provision), and that Iran still acts against American interests, including:

  • supporting terrorist groups, most notably Hezbollah
  • threatening American friends and allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel
  • violating U.N. Security Council prohibitions regarding ballistic missiles
  • capturing American sailors who entered Iranian waters in January 2016 and releasing video of the incident

All true; all beside the point.

Maybe better negotiators could have convinced Iran to accept longer time limits or make concessions on non-nuclear issues. Maybe the P5+1 could have rejected the deal, imposed additional sanctions, and returned to negotiations in a year or two with more leverage. Or maybe the sanctions regime would have collapsed, with China or Russia choosing the economic benefits of trade with Iran over endless negotiations, leaving the U.S. with nothing.

We’ll never know. What we do know is that the United States has no leverage to renegotiate the deal now.

Widespread economic pressure got Iran to make concessions. Trump can pull out, but that won’t get the Europeans, let alone Russia or China, to reimpose sanctions. Unilateral sanctions, which the U.S. imposed following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, did little besides signal disapproval.

Those calling on Trump to rip up the deal either ignore the crucial question of leverage or offer handwaving solutions.

For example, National Review’s Ray Takeyh asserts that the Europeans will reimpose sanctions because they’ll “be eager to get along with” America’s new president, Russia will do it because Trump has a good relationship with Vladimir Putin, and then China won’t want to be the only holdout.

That’s wishful thinking.

Here’s the realistic choice facing the Trump administration: pull out unilaterally, or honor the existing agreement, watch Iran closely, and use the threat of military action to ensure Iranian compliance.

If Trump withdraws without first catching Iran in material breach, the world would blame America, allowing the Iranians to renege on their nuclear commitments without forfeiting most economic and diplomatic gains. Iran might scramble for a bomb to deter America’s newfound hostility.

That would leave two options: accept a nuclear Iran or go to war. Both come with considerable risks.

However, acknowledging this reality does not close off other avenues of confrontation. Much as the United States reached arms control agreements with the Soviet Union while countering Soviet efforts elsewhere, Trump can oppose Iran in other arenas.

Increasing aid to Israel and Saudi Arabia could strengthen Iran’s regional rivals, and Trump could help the Saudis fight the Iran-friendly Houthis in Yemen. The new administration could also work to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq, capitalizing on efforts to take back Mosul from ISIS.

But during the campaign, Trump said the U.S. should work with Russia in Syria, and parroted the Syrian government’s argument that the choice is Assad or terrorists.

Backing Assad would represent a shift to a realpolitik strategy, supporting a dictator as long as he can provide stability, abandoning both George W. Bush’s democracy promotion and Obama’s call that “Assad must go.”

However, Assad is Iran’s main ally in the Middle East, providing a crucial conduit for Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Supporting him would strengthen a group that threatens Israel, and put the United States on the opposite side of Saudi Arabia in what has been the region’s most significant Sunni-Shia power struggle.

If Trump helps Iran achieve its goals in Syria, and if he recognizes that ripping up the Iran deal does nothing positive for the United States, then he won’t look like much of a hawk to Iran’s most fervent opponents.

Analyzing Trump’s Policies on Terrorism

By Professor Grossman


Jihadist groups, most notably al-Qaeda and ISIS, try to convince Muslims that the United States is waging war on Islam. And the Trump administration might help them.

Terrorist groups rely on a steady stream of recruits. Larger groups are more formidable, and they have to replace suicide bombers and operatives killed or captured by their enemies.

Counterterrorists rely on intelligence. To thwart attacks, and identify and locate terrorist group members, they need timely and accurate information.

If Muslims believe the US is fighting them, they’re more likely to join the jihadists, and less likely to cooperate with the United States or American allies.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS therefore argue that they are defending the world’s Muslims against Western aggression. They point to American and European support for repressive governments in Muslim-majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They highlight Israeli actions in Lebanon and Palestine, the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the American drone program — anything that might convince Muslims they are facing a new Crusade and have no choice but to take up arms in self-defense.

Terrorists can’t beat us — it’s not like ISIS can invade and occupy Washington DC — but they might be able to bait us into beating ourselves.


 US Strategy Against Jihadists

President George W. Bush consistently characterized the US campaign against terrorists as a war of everyone v. al Qaeda, not Christians v. Muslims, or the West v. Islam.

The Obama administration continued this strategy, refining rhetoric and policies to undermine jihadist propaganda and recruitment, and to maximize Muslim governments’ and individuals’ willingness to work with the United States.

Both administrations gave orders to capture or kill committed terrorists, sometimes at the risk of collateral damage that would hand enemies a PR victory. However, they built America’s counter-jihadist strategy around separating the few extremists from the vast majority of the world’s Muslims.

The incoming Trump administration appears poised to do the opposite.


 Team Trump

During the campaign, Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States. That’s exactly the sort of blanket condemnation that Bush and Obama avoided.

As the election approached, Trump backed off the Muslim ban, first shifting to a ban on people from countries with a “proven history of terrorism” (which arguably includes all of them) and then calling for “extreme vetting” (which he never explained).

This change suggests Trump was just playing to a bigoted crowd, and realizes that demonizing 1.6 billion people is not in America’s interests. But his picks thus far for senior White House posts do not inspire confidence.

The President-elect selected Michael Flynn as his National Security Adviser, the most powerful position that does not require Senate confirmation. Since the announcement, Flynn has faced criticism for his comments about Islam.

Here’s President Bush in 2001: The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clericsa fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.

 And here’s Flynn in 2015:

Islam is a political ideology” that “hides behind being a religion.” It’s “a cancer.

 See the difference?

Flynn won plaudits as the head of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command, playing a crucial role in the effort to kill and capture Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. However, his time since — including his failure as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and subsequent public statements about Islam — indicate that, no matter his tactical effectiveness, he probably will not lead US strategy against jihadist groups in a productive direction.

 In a November 20 interview, Martha Raddatz asked Reince Priebus, Trump’s pick for chief of staff, if Flynn’s statements are “in line with how President-elect Trump views Islam?”

 Priebus responded “well, I think so.” He noted that Flynn’s phrasing could have been better, but “clearly there are some aspects of that faith that are problematic.”

 Priebus clarified that this “certainly isn’t a blanket for all people of that faith,” indicating that he isn’t crazy enough to believe all Muslims are terrorists. But none of his statements show he understands how jihadists benefit when American officials use phrasing like Flynn’s.

A Muslim Registry
During the campaign, Trump proposed requiring all Muslims in America, both citizen and non, to register with the government. This drew comparisons to Nazi Germany registering Jews, and Trump backed away.

However, after the election, Trump policy advisers drafted plans to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries. In an interview with Megan Kelly, Trump surrogate Carl Higbie defended this idea, citing the precedent of Japanese internment camps.

Echoing a Trump campaign line, Higbie argued that this is necessary “until we can identify the true threat and where it’s coming from.”

But we have identified the true threat, and we know where it’s coming from.

Analyzing, monitoring, tracking, capturing and killing jihadists has been a top priority for the US intelligence community for the last 15 years. The CIA established the Counterterrorism Center in 1986, including an Islamic Extremism Branch. In 1996, it set up an Issue Station devoted to Osama bin Laden. Jihadist groups, and terrorism in general, have long been a major focus in universities, think tanks, and consultancies.

The idea that we don’t understand the threat or where it’s coming from is ridiculous.


During the campaign, Trump also advocated bringing back torture.

The euphemistically named “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed early in the War on Terror are a dark mark on the United States. Even if one sets aside questions of morality, torture undermined American strategy. Stories from Guantanamo Bay and CIA black sites, and viral images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, provided al Qaeda with a powerful recruitment tool.

Experts debate whether tortured prisoners provide accurate intelligence, or, even if they do, whether the information could be acquired with more moral means. But Trump sidestepped this, arguing “even if it doesn’t work, they deserve it.”

As with many other outlandish campaign statements, he later backed off.

However, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to run the CIA, defends waterboarding, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence refused to rule it out.

America’s Strategy Under Trump

America’s strategy against jihadist groups under Bush and Obama was far from perfect.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be worse. Much worse.

Requiring Muslims to register and bringing back torture? Jihadists will not believe their luck.

This is, in part, a war of ideas. The President-elect can’t take back what he said during the campaign, but he hasn’t taken office yet.

Marine general James Mattis, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, opposes torture, and will balance Flynn’s influence.

Next, he should nominate a respectable Secretary of State, and start working to undermine jihadist propaganda, rather than feed it.

Retrospective on Forecasting the 2016 Election

by Professor Dion

Wednesday, November the 9th, was not a good day to be a political scientist.

The nation, after all, had been assaulted with months with a literal amount of survey results, margin of error calculations, cross-tabs, turnout models, bootstrap probability estimates, to name just a few of the quantitative tricks of the trade. And this mountain of evidence all pointed toward what could be interpreted as a near certainty that Hillary Clinton would in fact become the first female president in American history.

So when it became clear that Donald J. Trump would become the 45th president, the punditocracy, always looking for a scapegoat, turned its pitchforks and torches to Our Beloved Discipline. One morning commentator mocked quantoids with their pretensions to accuracy. Others pointed to some kind of post-Brexit zeitgeist in which the underclass finally rebelled against the pollmasters. Universally reviled was Nate Silver. Despite dropping the probability of a Clinton victory from 88 percent down to 71.4 on election eve, Silver’s sterling reputation was tarnished beyond repair (excuse the puns). Sic transit gloria mundi. As if all this wasn’t enough, the lowest blow, sharper than a serpent’s tooth: Professor Larry Sabato, in response to a direct question, stating that politics was “not a science” but was instead “an art,” and that we needed to get away from abstract models and back to “the old masters.”

[Just for the record: it doesn’t seem like “art” did all that much better. Sabato’s own “Crystal Ball” blog predicted a Clinton win, just like everyone else. And it isn’t just him. You can easily assembly a youtube highlights list of famous pundits saying the election was over as far back as August.]

Before abandoning political science and turning to something like sociology (I KEED! I KEED!), it might pay to look at how well quantitative work by actual academics (as opposed to plebian survey researchers) performed. They aren’t difficult to find — the journal PS (which is to political science what People is to, well, people) has presented forcasts in its quadrennial election issue for years. For 2016, PS published eight papers, each drawing on different methods, and all providing forecasts of the likely outcome of the vote. All based on replicable methods that had been tested on prior election results, and rely on information available months before the election.

I’ve assembled a list of the predictions and their performance in Table 1. A look at the results leads to a very different assessment of quantitative work than one gets from the media. The errors are all fairly small – especially noteworthy is the prediction by Iowa’s own Michael Lewis-Beck and Charles Tien, which was only off by half a percentage point. Averaging all the predictions, we come up with a predicted forecast of 50.95 percent of the popular vote to Clinton – quite close to the actual result of 50.5.

These are all fairly impressive and accurate forecasts. (Although my favorite, the Median Voter Theorem, predicting a perfect tie in every election, does even better than the average forecast). How then did the pontificators come up with the idea quantitative models failed?

Table 1: 2016 Election Forecasts

Forecast Clinton Percentage, Two-Party Vote Error
Norpoth 48.50%[1] -2.0%
Jerôme and Jerôme-Speziari 50.10% -0.4%
Lockerbie 50.40% -0.1%
Campbell 50.70% 0.2%
Lewis-Beck and Tien 51.00% 0.5%
Erikson and Wlezien 52.00% 1.5%
Graefe, Jones, Armstrong and Cuzán 52.40% 1.9%
Holbrook 52.50% 2.0%
Forecast Average 50.95% 0.4%

Its very simple. Our models have been aimed primarily at predicting the two-party vote, and as these results show, we do very well at that.  Presidential elections, however, are decided by electoral votes. Now, while I have no experimental evidence, I am convinced that the framing of the electoral vote provides a misleading (or at least different) view of the Clinton-Trump gap than percentages. Let’s test it out. Suppose I asked you which would represent a bigger win for Trump:

Scenario 1: Trump receives 290 electoral votes, while Clinton receives 232 (Michigan still to be decided).

Scenario 2: Trump receives 55.6 percent of the assigned electoral votes (Michigan still to be decided).

[Take your time. I will wait.]





If you stated that Scenario 1 was a better outcome for Trump, then you fell into my trap. This is in fact a trick question: 290 electoral votes is 55.6 percent of 522 electoral votes. But a 60 vote difference compared to 240 votes sounds so much bigger.



  1. Predicted Trump as winner of popular vote.
  2. Calculated from, Nov 16, 2016.