POGO 750 The Politics of National Security

An introduction to the history and analysis of American national security politics.

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Course Overview

This course provides an advanced introduction to the politics of defining, debating, doing, and judging the results of national security. Among the topics we will consider this semester are: the role of politics in shaping grand strategy, foreign policy, and national security policy; the role of politics in determining what national security is and is not; the role of the media and public opinion during war; the impact of national security issues on domestic politics; the foundation and evolution of public attitudes towards national security; and the connection between domestic politics and various dynamics in international relations such as war, peace, and trade.

After this course you will be able to


The role of politics in shaping national security policy


The impact national security has on American politics today


Competing theories about the intersection of national security politics and policy


How people form opinions about national security and why it matters

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Course Information

Course Materials

All of the books are at the GMU bookstore as well as online stores. All other materials will be available on Blackboard.

Required Books

  • Christian G. Appy, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Penguin 2016) ISBN-13: 978-0143128342
  • Ronald R. Krebs, Narrative and the Making of US National Security (Cambridge University Press 2015) ISBN-13: 978-1107503991
  • Russell Walter Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (Taylor and Francis 2002; Routledge 2009) ISBN-13 978-0375412301
  • Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, 2nd edition (Oxford University Press 2013) ISBN-13: 978-0199931767

Course Format and Process

We will meet on Zoom at our appointed time on Monday evenings. We will not go 2.5 hours, however, and other course activities will make up for the additional time. I will record the sessions in case people’s schedules for any reason make attendance impossible.

Each week, students will read the material, respond to the discussion board prompt on Blackboard, and attend class, where I will typically provide a short briefing but most of the time will be spent in discussion.

Course Requirements

Note: I do not expect students to have an extensive background in security studies, but I do expect everyone to read the material before class and to share their thoughts and insights with the class. I especially encourage those students who have professional experience with these subjects to share their knowledge.

Enthusiastic seminar participation (15%)

There will be roughly 20 students in our class, making live Zoom sessions a reasonable (if not optimal) proposition for discussion. These will be recorded for posterity and future viewing.

Weekly reading responses (15%)

Short essays responding to provocations posed on our Blackboard discussion board about the readings. Due before class each week in order to encourage everyone to do some processing before we discuss the readings live. You are excused from writing this in the weeks you are turning in a critical response essay.

Critical response essays (25%)

Two short critical response essays, of approximately 3 double-spaced pages, on the week’s readings. Due before the class session in which the readings are discussed. Pick your weeks wisely. More information is available on Blackboard and we will discuss in class.

Research paper (30%)

An analytical research paper of 15+/- pages. For Master’s students your paper will follow either the Public Opinion or the “Politics Of” Case Study template. PhD students may propose alternate topics of their own. Due Dec 12. More information is available on Blackboard and we will discuss in class.

Peer review and weekly accountability groups (15%)

Students will be assigned to three-person writing groups to provide weekly accountability and peer review. Each student will submit a peer review of one research proposal and one rough draft. More information is available on Blackboard and we will discuss in class.



Readings & Lectures

Aug 24


Course introduction, historical context


Mead, Special Providence, (all)

Aug 31


Appy, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (all)


Sep 7

No class today



Sep 14

Opinion formation and the sources of foreign policy attitudes

·      Zaller, Chs 1 and 2, from The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion

·      Wittkopf, “On the Foreign Policy Beliefs of the American People,”

·      Kertzer, et al, “Moral Support: How Moral Values Shape Foreign Policy Attitudes,”

·      Rathbun, et al, “Taking Foreign Policy Personally,”


Sep 21

Will they support the mission? War, presidents, casualties, and public opinion


·      Jentleson and Britton, “Still Pretty Prudent,”

·      Gelpi, Feaver, and Reifler, “Success Matters,”

·      Berinsky, “Assuming the Costs of War,”

·      Baum and Groeling, “Reality Asserts Itself,”


Sep 28

Narratives and national security


·      Krebs, Narratives and the Making of US National Security, (all)

Oct 5

9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the GWOT

·      Jacobson, “A Tale of Two Wars,”

·      Mueller and Stewart, “The Terrorism Delusion,”

·      Snyder, et al “Free Hand Abroad,”


Tues Oct 13

Congress vs. the Imperial President

·      Readings TBD


Oct 19

The military in politics

·      Bacevich, The New American Militarism, (all)


Oct 26

The media, the marketplace of ideas, and national security politics


·      Hallin, “The Media, the War in Vietnam,”

·      Entman, “Framing U.S. Coverage of International News,”

·      Kaufman, “Selling the Iraq War,”

·      Thrall, “A Bear in the Woods?”


Nov 2

Peace and antiwar movements since Vietnam


Guest Speaker: Kate Kizer, Policy Director, Win Without War (@KateKizer)


·      Readings TBD

Nov 9

Flex day: class will vote topic

·      Readings TBD


Nov 16

Party politics and the struggle over the future of US foreign policy

·      Burns, “Polarized Politics Has Infected American Diplomacy,”

·      Schultz, “The Perils of Polarization for U.S. Foreign Policy,”

·      Dueck, “What Is Conservative Nationalism?”

·      Nexon, “Towards a Neo-Progressive Foreign Policy,”

·      Biden, “Why America Must Lead Again,”


Nov 23

China, American decline, and the politics of retrenchment

·      Brands, “The Chinese Century?”

·      Campbell and Sullivan, “Competition Without Catastrophe,”

·      MacDonald and Parent, “Graceful Decline?”


Nov 30

Trump, COVID-19, and the evolution of American internationalism


·      Holsti and Rosenau, “Consensus Lost, Consensus Regained?”

·      Thrall and Goepner, “New Faces of Internationalism,”

·      Brands, “Is American Internationalism Dead?”


Dec 7

Final paper due by midnight Saturday Dec 12


Questions about the course?