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Tutor profile: Mohammed H.

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Mohammed H.
College Professor for 20 Years
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Questions

Subject: Political Science

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Question:

Is political science a "science" or an "art"? Can we study politics objectively like physicists study the universe objectively, or is "political science" on the wrong path in emphasizing the scientific study of government?

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Mohammed H.
Answer:

For a long time, politics was the domain of philosophers, ethicists, and leaders themselves. In the age of enlightenment and during the colonial period, politics became the domain of diplomats, military strategists, and revolutionaries that resisted them. However, after WWII, the study of politics has increasingly been captured by academics who insist on applying rigorous methodological tools to analyze politics as a human science. They sought to apply qualitative and quantitive techniques to study objectively the dynamics of political behavior using the scientific method: research puzzle, literature review, hypotheses, research design, data collection and analysis, and publication with replication in mind. The field has evolved from single case studies and few comparative works to large-n analysis with sophistical quantitive models. This scientific turn, however, is built on some dubious assumptions that do not warrant making politics into a science. The first assumption is that political behavior, with the right research design, can be isolated into one or few factors. Yet, the complexity of political actors--rebels, party leaders, military organizations, presidents--make it nearly impossible to home in on a few factors that shape their behavior. The second assumption is that political behavior can be isolated from psychological factors, economic considerations, cultural constraints, and so on. The field of political science is not interdisciplinary, but human behavior draws on many facets of life. Human behavior, even with the most meticulous research design, cannot be isolated into a laboratory setting where only one factor is observed and analyzed. The third assumption is that political dynamics are fairly constant, thus warranting generalizations. However, we know that unlike physical objects, humans learn, adapt, and change based on prior experience. A political truism today is likely to cease being true in the future because humans can become aware of it and can adapt to it. Political "science" should return to its roots, which entails "thick description" of political behavior by observers that are close to their subjects. There is room for quantitative rigor, but that does not suffice to turn an inherently amorphous subject into a scientific domain.

Subject: International Relations

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Question:

Briefly explain the three levels of analysis in international politics and discuss how they might shape our approach to security crises.

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Mohammed H.
Answer:

International relations can be analyzed through three analytical prisms: the individual leader, the state decision-making bureaucracy and domestic institutions, and the distribution of power within the state system. Kenneth Waltz was among the first to introduce these analytical categories in his seminal book, Man, the State, and War. At the individual level of analysis, the emphasis is on the role of leaders and interpersonal diplomacy based on the unique features of state leaders. Some leaders are seen as rational, other as fanatical, and still others as evil (e.g. Hitler). In crises, the focus is on understanding what drives leaders to make the decisions that they make, regardless of their institutional setting or their power position within the international order. At the bureaucratic level, the dictum "where you sit determines where you stand" holds true. Different bureaucracies that make up the national security state compete with each other to shape foreign policy decisions. Each institution has its own interests and calculations, which makes the process less rational and more of a tug-of-war between elites. In crises, the focus shifts from "the leader" to the key advisors representing different domestic constituencies, including politicians, the military, diplomats, intelligence agencies, and so on. The process is messy and based on compromise rather than the optimal pursuit of national self-interest. At the systemic level, the most important determinant of state behavior is its relative power. Strong states do what they will and weak states do what they must. Individual leaders and state institutions matter little because without economic and military power at their disposal, their choices are limited. In crises, emphasis on the power position of rival states, their alliances, and their vulnerabilities becomes the main determinant of their foreign policy conduct.

Subject: Comparative Government and Politics

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Question:

Democratic waves have spread to several parts of the world, but democratization in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has not taken hold despite public demands for democratic governance. Analyze the key factors that help explain the failure of the "Arab Spring" to bring forth democratic regimes in the MENA region.

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Mohammed H.
Answer:

Three factors help explain the resiliency of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Firstly, many governments in the region are oil-rich "rentier" states that use their oil wealth to develop strong and repressive internal security forces to suppress mass opposition. This has been the case with many of the Gulf states, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Second, the opposition in the MENA region is fractured between liberal secular forces and conservative Islamists. The governments use this divide to play each faction against the other, creating tension and mutual mistrust within the democratic opposition. Relatedly, many international governments hesitate to push for democracy in the MENA because they fear the rise of Islamist governments. These governments associate regime change with instability that could remove reliable allies and place in their stead militant parties or even terrorist organizations. Syria is a prime example of this dynamic, but the same also occurred in the Palestinian Territories after the 2006 elections. Lastly, the MENA states have developed strong military elites that play a direct role in the economy. This entrenched class of business warriors have a vested interest in the status quo and, as such, have been resistant to pursuing genuine democratic reforms that could expose or curtail their economic fiefdoms. Algeria during the 1990s and in the present exemplify this dynamic.

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