Welcome to 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast. I'm Jonathan Hall.
This episode we speak with Danielle Lupton, author of the recent book Reputation for Resolve: How Leaders Signal Determination in International Politics. Danielle Lupton is ssistant Professor of Political Science at Colgate University. She has published articles in Political Analysis, Political Research Quarterly, International Interactions, and the Journal of Global Security Studies. We spoke to Danielle about how individual world leaders influence international politics. How Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev personally viewed President Eisenhower and Kennedy in terms of their resolve and reputation. And what reputational challenges will President Biden most likely face as he begins his new term? Hello, Danielle, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here today.
It's a pleasure to have you. We wanted to congratulate you on your recent book reputation for resolve how leaders signal determination in international politics. Tell us what inspired you to write this book?
Well, I've always really been interested in understanding how individual world leaders and individual policymakers influence international politics. And so when I was thinking about, you know, major concepts that influence international politics, there's this idea out there that what states have done in the past, really influences how they're perceived in the future and influences their foreign policies. And this is what we call a reputation. And in particular, there's this idea that one's reputation for resolve, which is, how tough and firm do I think you are based on your past actions is really important. When states interact with each other, particularly during international crises. The idea being that if you have a reputation for being resolute that you're gonna get a much better deal in the end, because other states aren't going to challenge you as much, or they're gonna take your threats more seriously.
But given my interest in in world leaders, I was really curious if What if this isn't really a story about states like the United States? What if this is actually story about, you know, President Biden, or President Trump or President Obama, etc, getting their own reputations? And so I just had this like nine feeling in my gut, that were missing a really critical part of the story. And so that's what led me to embark on this journey to go out and really investigate, you know, do leaders acquire their own reputations? If so, how and what factors shaped that? So in your research, who were the the the main characters that you focused on? So I did, I really did a deep dive into the Cold War. And in particular, I'm, I'm really interested in American foreign policy and relations with the USSR. So I did this really intensive historical research on how Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev viewed President Dwight D. Eisenhower and john F. Kennedy in terms of their resolve and their reputations. I'm really looking and seeing like for each of these presidents, how did Khrushchev view them in terms of their toughness and seriousness and determination over time? And how did that change? And what was really cool about that was that we have, I think, in the, at least in the American national discourse, this idea about kind of this American triumphalism during the Cold War. And, and as well, I think particularly the legacy of the Kennedy administration is that we have this really, in some ways, Rosie, I suppose one could say, view of how Kennedy handled things like the Berlin crisis, and then eventually the Cuban Missile Crisis. And while ultimately, for the United States, those were a quote unquote, positive outcome. The way that Kennedy got there, he actually did things that made his life really difficult. And so what was really interesting for me was to sit down and trace from the very beginning of Kennedy's time in office, you know, what actions did he take? What statements did he make about what he said he was going to do? And why he wanted to do those things, for example, like, why was Berlin so important to the US national interest, and then seeing how Khrushchev responded, and in doing so what I did was I actually went to the archives, including, for example, the Eisenhower
Presidential Library in the archives there. And it's really amazing to sit down with these original original documents, these handwritten notes from these really key players because you realize that these these what we call great men, really were people. It was amazing that some of these historical figures are terrible. doodlers. Yeah, in the meeting, so and some of the comments they really do tell you you know, it's Their notepads what they think about the person who's speaking at that time during that National Security Council meeting, right. So that, you know, that that was just really feeling that connection to history was something like, Oh, yeah, that's right. You know, you hear about Kennedy and Eisenhower or Dulles or even Khrushchev, right? These these really big personalities. And you realize that they were also human being. And and what I was really surprised by, as I was researching my book, was how much those personal connections not just between, you know, those major players, like, you know, Eisenhower and Khrushchev had a very complicated relationship. So too, did Eisenhower and, excuse me, so to to Khrushchev and Kennedy. But the interplay between, you know, their national security teams within the United States was just really fascinating. And getting to see that unfold on the page, like touch that piece of history. It's just such a, you know, it's almost an electric experience when you when you come across those documents.
Wow, is there one in particular that comes to mind that, that you when you saw their notes, for example, that that you're like, wow, that was easy said this electric field is the one that comes to mind?
Well, I just, you know, the I mentioned the doodling before, but there's this, I guess, one could say more minor character in the story on the American side, Gerard C. Smith, who was very open in his notes about what he thought about the other people in the in the national security meeting, and had some very interesting side doodles. Occasionally, you would come across things not just in his notebook, but but others as well, that were a bit off color and not suitable for work. You know, which I think all of us in many ways can relate to, you know, I know sometimes I will doodle to actually keep my attention going. You know, and so there is just, there's just something so incredibly human humanizing about that as they're Of course, discussing things like the formoso crisis, or what what other scholars call the Taiwan straits crisis. You know, they're talking about whatever are we gonna do about the Cuban about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and they're doodling? And there's something about that, that I just found so wonderfully. I don't know humanizing. Yeah, that makes sense. It makes sense.
Yeah. Even though its historical, and its history, that there's real characters involved here.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And, and that's another thing that I thought was really interesting, if I may, Jonathan was. The other thing that was really cool about this was, I know that I growing up, so I'm an I'm an American, you know, growing up and all American schools, you definitely get this, the way we talk about specific Soviet leaders are stuff Li You know, kind of kind of like this national discourse behind who these Soviet leaders were. Khrushchev in particular, I think, holds a very important place in the in the way that, you know, we educate particularly high schoolers, etc, about US foreign relations with the Soviets. And what I thought was really interesting, was seeing some of these, you know, transcripts of meetings with Khrushchev, and that doesn't always match the personality has on the page doesn't always match the personality, I think that we're sometimes, you know, told and kind of this national national mythology about these people. And the other thing that I thought was so interesting about Khrushchev in particular, was that his memoirs are a very different accounting, you know, this hindsight 2020 than what he's saying at the time. And so for me, I thought that was, you know, we've always been warned when you do historiography or qualitative research, just from a more of a scholarly perspective, you know, that memoirs are maybe a bit can be a bit dubious, they're a bit of rewriting of history. But certainly in Khrushchev's case, I really found that to be really spot on, he really does go back. And you know, and what he says at the time, contemporarily does not match what he later says he felt, which I thought was really fascinating, and I think is also a very human thing as well. Interesting. Interesting.
So with this deep dive, how do you hope your book will make an impact in your field?
So in international relations, which is my primary home home field, and I suppose in political science as well, more broadly, there's really been this long standing debate or discourse over whether reputations in general actually matter. And we've had these very vocal what I call in the book reputation skeptics who say that no, reputations don't matter. So basically, what you as a state primarily, but as a general actor out there international politics have done in the past doesn't really influence how people see you. Because when excuse me when I say people, I mean other actors, right? how others see you because they're not going to focus on what you did in the past. They're going to focus on other things that matter right there in that particular situation or crisis. And so for the past, oh gosh, at least 20 years, if not further, back. Actually 3030 years, really, we've been having this ongoing debate where you have people who are arguing it does matter and people who argue that it doesn't. And what I hope my book does is that it pushes this this discourse forward. Because what my book shows is that, yes, reputations do matter. But we've been looking in the wrong place for reputations to form. It's not about the reputations of states like the United States, it's actually the reputations of these individual policymakers or individual leaders that are really important. Another thing I show in the book is that all those factors that those reputation, skeptics say, are most important for reputation, I actually take those into account, both in my historical analysis, and also in the survey experiments that I do in the book. And I show that even accounting for those factors, that these reputations still matter. So kind of more broadly in the field, I hope that it really, you know, pushes that that research forward. But this also has really important policy implications for how we think about how world leaders should respond to international crises and events. So I think, for example, here about Obama and Syria, right, there was this huge debate in the broader, you know, foreign policy discussion about how did Obama perform? Did he follow up with his red line? Does it even matter? Or why do we care? Right? I hope that my book also speaks to that. And that's one thing that I really do try to do in the book is integrate these policy implications, not only in the conclusions, but throughout the book. And there's one other thing that I really hope my book does more broadly. And that is that I really hope that it can it it solidifies this this discourse that individuals matter. Again, this is something that I think we as just people interacting in the world think matter rights, if you think about presidential elections, does it matter if Trump wins versus Biden? I would say absolutely. Right. But the way traditionally that political science discourse has thought about this. The majority of scholarship out there for a very long time has argued that no other things are more important. And so I really hope that my work further solidifies the wonderful work that has already out there that further demonstrates how much these individual world leaders are really important, not just to foreign policy, but also to broader patterns of international conflict and just international security writ large.
Well, you bring up the whole notion of individual actors versus the state. And you mentioned Trump versus Biden, we've had a pretty tumultuous, least even this race the past four years, this this past month and a half goodness, what do you see as the challenges or what are the headlines that you that pop out for you, given your knowledge and expertise? What do you see are the challenges and characteristics of President Biden?
So I think that one thing that Biden is, is on the right track on absolutely is really this notion of restoring American credibility. It's absolutely no secret that the Trump administration undermined American credibility through through a variety of functions, most notably, their withdrawal for national agreements, they're signaling to Alliance partners that they, they were no longer going to be committed to the Alliance. But also Trump kind of had a bit of a habit, I would say not always, to be fair, not always. But he he did have a little bit of a habit of making these really strong, what I would call bombastic or blustery statements. Using really strong emotional rhetoric, I think, for example, the fire and fury comment, right. And then not always adequately following through on that. So I think the Biden administration is right, to focus on restoring American credibility. However, what my work shows what my book shows, in particular, is that it is not so easy as just saying we we reaffirm American alliances. Right? What my book shows is that Biden's going to have an incredibly narrow time window in which to do this. What I find in the book is that new leaders do establish reputations that are separate from their states and separate from their predecessors, which is good news for Biden, he is not bound by Trump's reputation, or by the rhetorical choices that Trump made. The problem, however, is that what it's going to take from Biden is really clear, consistent rhetoric, and also clear policy agendas. And not just in terms of we want our store American credibility, but explicitly saying how he's going to do that. So for example, Kennedy kind of talked big on what he wanted for Berlin but did not make it clear how he was going to make that happen. And that really came back a little bit to bite him because what that signaled was that he didn't really know how he was going to do it and that he wasn't really prepared. And so what I would like to see from the Biden administration, I know it's very early. Right. And there's lots on the agenda, including a global pandemic. But what I would like to see from the Biden administration, now that his cabinet is getting confirmed, and is really getting settled, is a bit more, you know, nuanced and discussion about how are you going to restore American credibility with Europe? Right, what is this? What is the rhetoric of America's back? Well, what does that mean for European Alliance partners? Right? How are we going to do this? And how are we going to integrate that, I think it's going to be really important for the administration moving forward. And of course, Biden's going to need to very clearly follow through on this, you know, these broader promises with concrete policy action and do that rather quickly. I think that we tend to think about the fact that well, you know, campaign promises, those are for domestic audiences, international audiences, like Putin or whoever, right, they must realize those are for domestic audiences. Right? Yeah, they know, actually, what I find in my book is that Khrushchev used Kennedy's campaign promises as a signal of what he was going to do in the future. And when Kennedy didn't follow through on those campaign promises, it actually undermined his reputation. This is, a few years ago, before the book came out, I actually wrote a piece for foreign policy comm with Peter fever on this on this particular issue. And so I think there is this tendency, particularly on the campaign trail to make these big promises with the assumption that we all know that, you know, candidates over promise, well, the domestic public might, quote, unquote, know that, but international observers, outside observers, they're actually listening. So there is kind of this tension between when leaders make these promises for domestic audiences, they have to recognize that those have international audience costs as well, and be really interesting to see how the Biden ministration follows through on this really, I think, important and lofty agenda that they've put forth. And they do have a really difficult task here of, of, you know, rebuilding America in so many ways. And I'm glad they're doing that. I mean, I'm glad that they're making that front and center. I will be eagerly awaiting to see how the actual policy develops, particularly in the first 100 days here.
Yeah, same here. But those are great insights. They I never really thought about that. The public is maybe a little bit more jaded than the politicians and leaders overseas who take these things more seriously. And or literally the take them literally where we may be taken more figuratively, that they're just no campaign promises that will be broken once they get in. But that's no,
that's another area for future research that I think would be really fruitful for anyone out there listening.
Cool. Well, it was a pleasure talking with you, Danielle, and congratulations again. And your recent book reputation for resolve how leaders signal determination in international politics.
Thank you so much, Jonathan is real pleasure.
Thank you. That was Danielle Lupton, author of the recent book reputation for resolve how leaders signal determination in international politics. Follow Danielle on twitter at at prof Lupton or on our website at
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