JDB addressing Salzburg Global Seminar

I am in glorious Salzburg this week for the annual Global Seminar on American Studies. I will be one of a small number of keynote speakers at this year’s event, which is headlined by William Leuchtenburg.

The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) was founded in 2003 to build upon the positive momentum stemming from thirty-two sessions organized by the American Studies Center between 1994 and 2002. The purpose of SSASA is to provide a forum for anyone working in the field of American Studies to interact with experts in the field by meeting annually at Schloss Leopoldskron to attend symposia devoted to broad American Studies themes. The annual symposia are attended by distinguished professionals from a wide number of countries around the world. Through such American Studies symposia, the Salzburg Global Seminar continues to make a vital contribution to the promotion of open, international dialogue.

The 2011 symposium is entitled “Continuity and Change in US Presidential Foreign Policy; Plans, Policies and Doctrines” and will take place at Schloss Leopoldskron from October 6-10, 2011. The program will focus on comparative developments, continuity and changes in the international role and policies of the United States of post-war presidential administrations, with a special emphasis on the Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

Those of you familiar with my work will recognise how central these themes are to my ongoing research which is being showcased this autumn at a series of conferences in Europe and the United States.

JDB at BISA US Foreign Policy Working Group Annual Conference

I am kicking off a whirlwind of activity this autumn by attending the British International Studies Associations’s US Foreign Policy Working Group Annual Conference at the Rothermere Centre in Oxford this week. The conference is focused upon United States Foreign Policy Ten Years After 9/11. The Keynote Address will be delivered by Christopher Preble,  Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous and Less Free.

The BISA group aims to promote the study, research and teaching of US Foreign Policy in Britain. Last year I attended their conference in Leeds, which was a great success and saw the delivery of my paper on rendition that was turned into ‘What’s So Extraordinary About Rendition,’ reproduced in the International Journal of Human Rights.

This year I will be delivering a paper entitled Twin Towers and a Singular Opportunity that will seek to address the opportunity for greatness that President Bush squandered in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and contrast his reactions to those that occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The work feeds into and is a direct result of my ongoing research into the US reaction to terrorist activity and acts of political violence that were initiated during my time as a Visiting Fellow at the University of North Dakota’s Centre for Human Rights and Genocide Studies.

Once the paper is delivered I will be making my way rather rapidly to Heathrow for the Friday afternoon flight to Los Angeles, where my academic adventures will continue….

Still Paying off ‘The Debt’

Last night I attended a pre-release screening of The Debt, the new movie starring a host of famous faces, including Tom Wilkinson (still in purgatory for his turn as Joe Kennedy in my book), Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and Ciaran Hinds.

Based upon a small, never before heard of Israeli film, the debt tells the tale of three Mossad agents ordered into east berlin to snatch (dare i say ‘render’?) a former nazis back to justice in sunny Tel Aviv. Needless to say all does not go to plan, or it would have been a far shorter, though perhaps more satisfying film.

It’s not a sentiment that will gain much traction at cocktail parties, but if there is a message to take away from The Debt, it is surely this: if you have a crazed nazis doctor under lock and key, don’t bother with legal niceties. You may not live to regret it.

I had been expecting an improved version of Munich, and certainly the signs were good; great cast and director and from Miramax. Hang on, you are no doubt thinking, Miramax went the way of the dodo years ago.  Exactly. Welcome to the last gasp from a dead studio. It is a rule of thumb that films that sit in cans for years should probably stay there.

A film with great potential has some serious flaws at its dark heart. A major flaw in this case is that the fine cast are playing the wrong characters. Ciaran Hinds’ younger self is a buttoned down square, whilst Tom Wilkinson’s younger self is something of a swinger. Yep, right actors in the wrong roles. Think Harrison Ford playing Luke Skywalker. Exactly.

The producer (who introduced the screening) was at pains to note how director John Madden had insisted on filming in Israel. Well it could be Israel, or anywhere else with a beach. There was little else of this fascinating country on the screen.

The production had a ‘made for tv’ feel to it and this contributed to a rather underwhelming reaction.

As a friend of mine noted, the film is a treatise on the failure of the liberal mentality. Quite right as usual Tim.

This is ultimately a film about secrets. It supposes that three secret agents can’t cope with the guilt over keeping sect the details of a botched mission. The flaw is perhaps in sipping that theses are normal people asked to keep stum. Not top Mossad agents. Not sure how much you know about the Mossad but I wouldn’t mess. The film turns into one complicated love triangle (how original) when it would have been far mire interesting if it had focused on the moral implications of rendering justice.

The film’s climax ultimately feels like a tacked on ending as the grandmother secret agent heads off to do what the two men cannot, namely face down their nemesis is a Ukrainian asylum. I wonder if Helen Mirren realised she had already played this role in RED?

So, points for effort, and hugs and kisses from the lovies for reminding us that lying is bad, but killing ageing Nazis in cold blood is worse, but if push comes to shove, I’ll call the real Mossad, not the Hollywood variation, if I really want a job doing properly!

New Publication: What’s So Extraordinary About Rendition?

I am delighted to announce that my latest academic article, ‘What’s So Extraordinary About Rendition? has just been published in the International Journal of Human Rights. I encourage you all to have a look at it and let me have your thoughts.

For those with access to it, you can find it at:

What’s so extraordinary about rendition?
The International Journal of Human Rights
Volume 15, Issue 4, 2011, Pages 589 – 604
Author: James D. Boysa
DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2011.561989
It can be accessed HERE


The election of Barack Obama was believed to herald a profound change in direction for US foreign policy, following eight years of pre-emption, neo-conservatism and extraordinary rendition under George W. Bush. However, this has not occurred to the degree that many expected. Instead the Obama White House continues to refer to the controversial policy of rendition as ‘appropriate’. This article will consider the rendition programme and its evolution to discern the degree to which the Bush administration was continuing policies inherited from President Clinton. This article will reveal the extent to which rendition was developed under the Clinton administration and the degree to which it evolved into extraordinary rendition in the years prior to the George W. Bush presidency. The article will reveal the extent to which the Clinton White House was waging a war on al Qaeda, using rendition to destroy the organisation, ‘brick by brick’. The article will finally consider the extent to which Obama has repudiated the Bush Doctrine and chartered a new course for US foreign policy.

Mubarak and the Ghost of Pinochet

Today’s news stories regarding the detention of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak should remind readers of a similar event that transpired over a decade ago with regard to another former repressive leader. Then as now, the individual in question had ruled a nation for several decades, had a military background, and ruled with the full support of his nation’s military establishment, and importantly, with the full support and backing of the CIA. Then, as now the individual in question rose to power following an assassination and ruled with absolute power, imposing harsh penalties on his political opponents and being viewed with disdain by many in the international community, despite their having to do business with him due to the natural resources available in his country.

Both leaders would fall from power and be faced with the prospect of inquiries into their term in office. Then, as now, however, such inquiries are unlikely to materialise due to their past connections with the CIA, which will not permit such dealings to face the light of day.

The other leader I am referring, to is General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, whose term in office and fall from grace mirrors that of Hosni Mubarak. So to, it seems, do both leaders apparent collapse in health in the face of judicial investigation (dementia in the case of Pinochet, heart attacks in the case of Mubarak).

With the involvement of the CIA in Chile and Egypt, a pragmatic, realist interpretation suggests that as with Pinochet, Mubarak will never be allowed to see the inside of an Egyptian court for fear of what may be revealed. In the case of Pinochet fears focused on the assassination of Rene Schneider by the forces of the United Sates and CIA support for Pinochet as a bastion of anti-Communism in South American during the Cold War. In Egypt, the fear revolved around support for Mubarak’s regime, its handing of dissidents, allegations of torture and the Egyptian role in the Rendition policies of recent years.

Now, as in the case of Pinochet, it is almost certain that a former client of the CIA will escape ‘justice’ at the hands of his countrymen, predicated on ill-health, and be able to live out the short time he has left in relative isolation. The degree to which this is any sort of justice, I leave to you to decide.

Rendition, Justice and the American Way…. (Extract from Research Paper)

The election of Barack Hussein Obama was equated to a political ablution, designed to purge the electorate of the policies that had so offended the world for the past eight years. Yet whilst the overriding sentiments of anti-Americanism have clearly subsided, this has had little to do with a change in policy. Obama may well be the world’s president of choice, but Obama has not expressly repudiated Dick Cheney’s view of the world. Indeed, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch has denounced the Obama Administration for adopting policies that “mimic the Bush Administration’s abusive approach.” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner has lamented that Obama “has chosen to continue the Bush administration practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course.”

President Obama may have signed an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques, but his administration reaffirmed the rendition program, a move deemed to be ‘Extremely disappointing,’ according to the ACLU. The high rhetoric of Obama’s campaign, his inaugural address and first orders indicated a new direction for US foreign policy, but while this initially appeared to be the case, ‘there are a growing number of reasons to suspect that Obama will not be quite as liberal on these matters as his rhetoric might have suggested, his supporters might have hoped, or Dick Cheney might have feared.’ Indeed, all indications are that the Obama administration will try to find a middle road that will protect civil liberties without leaving the nation defenceless. The political risk is that it will leave Obama, as Clinton was before, fending off criticism from both the left and the right, for doing too little to change and for doing too much.

It is the former vice president who has done much to criticise the new administration. This is perhaps, not surprising since Obama ‘was elected partly to cleanse the temple of the Cheney stain, and in his campaign speeches he promised to reverse Cheney’s efforts to seize power for the White House in the war on terror.’ The reality, however, is not one of radical change, but rather of degrees. There have been more predator drone attacks in the first years of Obama’s presidency than under Bush; the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay remains open as of September 2010. Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who has been consulted by the new administration on these issues, says the change on rendition “is not a seismic shift in policy. Rather, it is that the United States will send individuals to other states, and, if those states have a questionable record on human rights, then we will not only seek assurances as we have in the past, but that we will be more rigorous on following up on those assurances.” It’s change you can believe in, just not the sort that many wanted.

It remains too much for Cheney, of course. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, he accused the new Administration of making “the American people less safe” by banning brutal C.I.A. interrogations of terrorism suspects that had been sanctioned by the Bush Administration. Ruling out such interrogations “is unwise in the extreme,” Cheney charged. “It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” It would be wrong, however, to imagine that this White House is staffed by, or under the guided by, those with an extreme liberal ideology. Many are from the tough political machine of Chicago politics, whilst others have returned to the White House having served as New Democrats under Clinton.

A prime example is DCI Leon Panetta. As the former Chief of Staff who brought a modicum of discipline to the Clinton White House, Panetta had a reputation as a leg breaker. When asked about Rendition at his confirmation hearing, he noted that suspects would no longer be kidnapped, sent overseas and tortured. However, he added, ‘Renditions where we return an individual to the jurisdiction of another country, and then they exercise their right to try that individual and to prosecute him under their laws-I think that is an appropriate use of rendition.’ Clearly the Obama administration has chosen to return to a public stance on rendition that is akin to the previous model exercised by the Clinton White House, where it began, ‘in a more carefully monitored form,’ before being ‘transformed into what John Radsan, former C.I.A. lawyer, called “an abomination.”’ Panetta says the Obama Administration will take precautions to ensure that rendered suspects are treated humanely; “I’ve talked to the State Department, and our people have to make very sure that people won’t be mistreated.” The Obama administration will sharply restrict “extraordinary renditions” in which the United States sends terrorism suspects to foreign countries for detention and interrogation. Of course, the Bush Administration professed to be taking similar precautions.

These issues raise serious questions pertaining to the American sense of mission and of exceptionalism. It is hard to ascertain how they do anything but undermine such aspirations. Obama entered the Oval Office with great hopes and aspirations and with the expectation of world opinion. It is hard to see how much of this remain intact on the world stage with so few major alterations from the Bush Strategy, regardless of stated intent. This is not necessarily Obama’s fault. As president, there is, paradoxically, only so much that he can do, but the world expects so much more. There is in addition the two great double standards at work: The double standard to which great nations are always held, of either interfering too much or not often enough; and the contradictory nature of American foreign policy, of oscillating between imperial designs and latent isolationism. Solving these dilemmas will not be rectified anytime soon.