Featured Author: James H. Lebovic

PSQ prides itself on publishing scholarship created by the best and brightest in their respective fields. To highlight some of these exciting contributors and provide an in-depth look at the broader work our authors do, we bring you our Featured Author interview series.

James H. Lebovic is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He has published widely on defense policy, deterrence strategy, arms control, military budgets and procurement, foreign aid, democracy and human rights, international conflict, and military intervention. His article “Security First?: The Traveling U.S. Secretary of State in a Second Presidential Term” can be found in the June 2018 publication of Presidential Studies Quarterly. 

What made you interested in this subject?
My interest in diplomacy grew largely through osmosis. My home institution—George Washington University—borders the White House on one side and the State Department on another. I became far more interested in the subject, about ten years ago, when I started bringing current and former US government officials to campus for talks and roundtable discussions as part of a University series. My interest in diplomacy grew further when, in 2016, I served as an outside (“public”) member of a Foreign Service Selection panel. Reviewing the career files for hundreds of foreign-service officers made me appreciate how actively—and vitally—US diplomatic personnel participate in all aspects of global affairs, interacting with governments, groups, and regular citizens. I took on diplomacy as a research topic several years back, after a casual lunch conversion with my colleague, Elizabeth Saunders. We had both learned (via the same news article) that the Office of the Historian at the State Department had compiled a historical list of foreign visits by the president and Secretary of State. That conversation led to a joint-research project.

How do you think your work on this article will guide you in your future research?
My co-authorship with Elizabeth led to an article on factors influencing the official travels of the president and Secretary of State. Separately, I became interested in the difference between first- and second-term travel patterns within a single administration, the subject of my current article. Elizabeth and I are planning additional projects together. We compiled data, for instance, on the professional backgrounds of US ambassadors in the post-Cold War period. We intend to explore the relative influence of professional and patronage considerations in these appointments.

What kind of response do you hope your work elicits from your readers?  Ideally, what kind of critical thought do you hope your article inspires?
I hope readers recognize that today’s complex global problems require active US diplomacy. I also hope they appreciate that much of the important work of diplomacy resides in the routine. Although academic researchers tend to focus on the “big stuff”—crisis negotiations and high-profile summitry (like the pending negotiations with North Korea)—presidents (and their chief diplomat) must “take care of business” by consulting with allies, addressing age-old problems, and attending to system maintenance. Presidents come to office with admirable idealism—and, sometimes, dangerous illusions.  Most eventually get the message. Unfortunately, some must learn the hard way.

Professor Lebovic can be contacted at lebovic@gwu.edu