Swarthmore Political Scientist
Wins National Book Award
by Stacey Kutish
Assistant Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney is the winner of the International Studies Association's Best Book Award for Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006). In the book, co-authored with Dominic Johnson of Princeton University, Tierney examines why popular judgments about success and failure in war often have little or nothing to do with the results on the ground.
According to Tierney, American public opinion is particularly harsh when the United States intervenes in anything resembling civil war, including the humanitarian operations in Haiti, Bosnia, and Somalia. "Intervention in Somalia has gone down in history as the greatest failure since Vietnam - at least until Iraq - but it saved the lives of perhaps 100,000 Somalis at the cost of only 43 American lives," he says. "America's record in civil war interventions is much more successful than most people seem to believe. But the polls clearly demonstrate that Americans judge these missions as failures. The question is, why?"
Tierney provided some answers in a New York Times op-ed last year. In his opinion, the most subtle and interesting reason is that Americans judge the success of nation-building relative to their own standards of democracy and stability instead of looking at how much progress has been made since U.S. forces arrived. "So a situation is judged as a failure for falling short of U.S. democratic standards, even if the country involved never had a democratic system and was incredibly unstable and poverty-ridden to begin with," he says. The effect is a defeatist attitude toward civil war intervention, what Tierney calls the "quagmire mentality."
Tierney came to Swarthmore from Harvard University in 2005. He is also the author of FDR and the Spanish Civil War: Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle that Divided America (2007), which argues that the civil war in Spain from 1936 to 1939 did not just passionately engage the attention of millions of Americans, but also led to Franklin Roosevelt's first challenge to fascist aggression in Europe.