December 2018

Trump’s Impact on the World: Melani Cammett on the Middle East

Harvard Professor of International Affairs Melani Cammett reviews the range of US policy stances in the Middle East and asks us to examine the difference between concrete policy shifts and skillful rhetoric.

Image of Melani Cammett and Michele Lamont

This is the second blog post in a series of edited transcripts from a panel on Trump's presidency held during our orientation in August 28, 2018. Our three panelists were Christina L. Davis, Melani Cammett, and Timothy Colton

Since the panel took place, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. President Trump’s failure to condemn Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman or to hold Saudi Arabia responsible has been widely viewed as a moral failing and an extreme act of favoritism. Some believe the incident has upset the dynamics of US relations with its Gulf allies, underscoring US permissiveness and bias toward Saudi Arabia.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk delivered by Melani Cammett:

Trump's impact on the Middle East is both radical and minimal. There are elements of it that I would say could be interpreted as really radical and new, and a lot of it is really not that new, but just dressed up in a lot of rhetoric and incendiary language and so forth. 

I'll start with the radical side. And maybe radical is too strong of a word, but I'll just use it to be provocative. 

There are several pillars of American foreign policy toward this region that I'll address. And I think in each one, you could interpret some of his [Trump’s] moves as new and destabilizing and radical. So I'll focus on the relationship with Israel, the relationship with the conservative Gulf Arab monarchies, and the war on terrorism. And there's always oil percolating in there in one way or another.... Read more about Trump’s Impact on the World: Melani Cammett on the Middle East

The Financial Crisis, Then and Now: Ancient Rome and 2008 CE

Amid the outpouring of ten-year retrospectives on the economic crisis of 2008, historian Charles Bartlett asks what a crisis that occurred almost 2000 years ago can tell us about the enduring relationships between legislative agendas, financial crises, and policy responses.

Drawing of Tiberius

By Charles Bartlett

In 33 CE, the Roman empire experienced a severe economic crisis. The crisis occurred when a law requiring creditors to invest a proportion of their capital in Italian lands was revived after observance and enforcement of it had lapsed.
One of the purposes of this law was to mark Italy as a unique area within the empire, by appealing to the notion—widespread among Rome’s elite—that Italian agriculture had been foundational to the Roman state and was still integral to Roman mores.
The rush by creditors to buy land sparked a credit crunch. After some turmoil and ineffectual action on the part of the senate, the Roman emperor Tiberius eventually made vast sums of money available for interest-free loans, thereby halting the crisis. 

These three elements of the crisis—namely the efficacy of a guarantee from the central monetary authority, the ad-hoc nature of response spread across numerous governmental entities, and the political program of the underlying legislation—are perennially important considerations that should enter any account of a large-scale economic crisis.

Ancient Rome 

By 33 CE, Rome had expanded over the course of centuries from a city-state on the banks of the Tiber River to an empire stretching across the Mediterranean basin and radiating outward to envelop Spain, France, and much of Germany in the northwest, and a large swath of Egypt and Libya in the southeast. At the beginning of this long expansion, Rome had been a republic in which, to varying degrees, the senate directed politics, the army, and the administration. 

In the first century BCE, Rome went through a series of civil wars, when powerful individuals challenged the control of the senate and related republican institutions. As a result of these conflicts, Rome became an empire by 27 BCE, where the emperor, despite presenting himself as princeps, or “first citizen,” was a monarch in all but name. The senate and other trappings of republicanism remained during the empire, but only with a diminished role.... Read more about The Financial Crisis, Then and Now: Ancient Rome and 2008 CE