“Study the world!”

Screenshot from Charli Carpenter's ISA2017 presentation.
Screenshot from Charli Carpenter’s ISA2017 presentation.


Last month Donald Trump actually tweeted something that I can take to heart:

“Study the world!” says the president, who admittedly doesn’t read books. Hey, I’ve been studying the world for most of my adult life, starting way back in the olden days (that’s the 1980s) when I was an undergraduate International Relations major. Now I do it professionally as a scholar and professor of International Relations at Oakland University where I devote a lot of energy toward doing just what the president is calling for.

I just spent the better part of the last week in Baltimore with 6,500 other people who study the world at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association. I wrote about my initial thoughts about the conference here. One of those smart folks, my friend Steve Saideman of Carleton University in Canada, already posted his take on the conference here.

More of those smart folks appear in the presentation below that Charli Carpenter, a super smart professor at the University of Massachusetts, gave on Thursday evening.

Take four minutes and watch it:

A whole bunch of those smart people also took a stand in solidarity with colleagues around the world who were unable, or unwilling to travel to the United States as a result of Pres. Trump’s immigration policies and documented cases of harassment and intimidation directed against Muslim travelers trying to enter the country.

And during the conference, even more of these smart people signed an open letter to the American people in response to the president’s call. (Full disclosure, I have asked to have my name added to the list of signatories as the letter continues to circulate in academic circles.)

Here’s how that letter begins:

Dear Fellow Americans,

Recently, President Trump tweeted that people should “Study the world!” to understand his foreign policy. As scholars of international relations, we have studied the world, and we are concerned that the actions of the President undermine rather than enhance America’s national security.

We agree it is important for any President to protect US citizens from extremist violence, ensure America is respected abroad, and prioritize American interests. But our knowledge of global affairs, based on history, scientific fact and experience, tells us that many of the policies Trump has undertaken thus far do not advance these goals. Instead, they have made Americans less safe.

You can read the full text here, and if you are a PhD in International Relations or a related field and would like to have your name added to the letter, there are instructions how to do so.

#ISA2017: Drive-by edition


I’m in Baltimore for the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, a four-day respite from the drudgery of spring break research conference when those of us who can afford to travel the sharpest minds in my profession come  together when hotel costs are cheap in the dead of winter to share their latest work.

If you must, you can follow the fun on Twitter. Just search for #ISA2017 and let the hilarity ensue.

Since I’ve been here all of four hours now, it’s time to post some initial thoughts and give a look at the week ahead:

Women will be woefully underrepresented on virtually every panel over the next four days. Despite the fact that women know stuff too.

If you walk far enough from the conference hotels, you can drink fairly priced Irish whiskey at a quiet bar without having to overhear conversations about: 1) the horrible job market: 2) pompous senior scholars who suck all the oxygen out of panel presentations; 3) pompous newly minted PhDs who do the same; 4) insecure grad students asking each other how they think it went; 5) any mention of post-modern anything.

You will inevitably see, in the first 15 minutes of walking around the conference, most of the friends you wanted to see anyway, making the next three days a little anticlimactic.

My professional obligations begin this evening with drinking. No, really. Social get-togethers and networking are a critical part of the conference experience. That we can’t expense.

My real work starts at 8:15 tomorrow morning when I get to reprise my role as Syrian Pres. Bashar Assad in a simulation of negotiations to try to resolve the Syrian civil war. News flash: I’ve not been all that interested in a negotiated settlement. That won’t change tomorrow.

During the online part of the simulation I was mean to my friend who got stuck playing Donald Trump. I intend to be mean again tomorrow.

Afterwards, in the debriefing panel, I get to explain why I was such a dick.

Later in the day I get to play senior scholar and give the kind of research presentation I always hated listening to at earlier stages in my career: lots of big ideas without a lot behind them. Yet. The good news is that my co-author is way smarter than me, so the project might have real legs.

In the evening I’m getting an award for this blog. Which means from here on out I will always refer to myself as an award-winning blogger, and this blog as an award-winning blog. You’ve been warned.

Friday I get to meet with more smart people and try to get them to let me free-ride on research projects that I wouldn’t be able to do by myself. I will contribute good ideas …

Saturday I get to present yet another research project, this one with actual data, but which made me depressed in the process of writing since I was reading foreign policy speeches made by actually literate presidents.

And with that, the annual dip into the glamorous world of the annual conference will come to an end, and each of us will return to our respective campuses to resume the daily work of trying to get 19-year-olds to care about international affairs.