October 2, 2023

Jason Davidson: Tug of War

Jason Davidson keeps a challenge coin in his office from a former student who later served as a Marine in the Middle East.

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Jason Davidson with his book, "America's Entangling Alliances: 1787 to the Present."

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Jason Davidson with his book, “America’s Entangling Alliances: 1787 to the Present.”

“It’s a reminder of how far my students go, literally and figuratively,” said Davidson, a professor in the University of Mary Washington’s Department of Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA). “And how much of an impact I can make in helping them better understand the world.”

Davidson began teaching at Mary Washington in 2001, after completing a Ph.D. at Georgetown University. On a sunny September morning, he was preparing a lecture when he learned of the terrorist attacks at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. “After that, we saw a tremendous increase in interest in the international affairs major.”

Two decades later, Davidson has become a sought-after expert on the Afghan and Iraq wars, foreign policy and national security. His yearlong study, The Costs of War to United States Allies Since 9/11, recently landed him in the likes of Forbes, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

His students collaborated on the 12-page report, which puts a spotlight on the human and monetary sacrifices U.S. allies made during these conflicts, as well as his recent book, America’s Entangling Alliances. Opportunities like these open up worlds for UMW students, he said, citing Rachel McVicker ’21, who was just hired by a top security analysis organization.

“Our department provides extraordinary mentorship to students,” Davidson said, from Nicole Angarella ’01, an Inspector General nominee for the U.S. Agency for International Development, to Dillon Schweers, a recent alum whose undergraduate paper won first prize in the national Pi Sigma Alpha honor society.

It’s clear, he said, that PSIA majors at Mary Washington “have a leg up in graduate school, the job market and beyond.”


Q: When did you first become interested in international affairs?
A: Reading about trench warfare during World War I and watching movies about Vietnam as a teenager showed me the effects of war on those who fight and the communities impacted.

Q: How did you first get involved in the Costs of War project?
A: Project Director Heidi Peltier invited me to participate in a scholarly workshop to produce papers on a variety of topics leading up to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. My second book focused on the allies’ decisions to provide military support to U.S.-led operations and included case studies on Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Q: Was there anything that surprised you during your research?
A: It was striking to see the cumulative allied casualties (1,039 for leading allies and the period I studied). The top three contributors of foreign aid also gave a similar amount to Afghanistan as the U.S. when calculated as a percentage of their GDP.

Q: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I have a tattoo on my left shoulder that I got in a garage when I was 17. (Don’t do this at home, kids!)

Q: Outside of work, how have you kept busy during the pandemic?
A: I spent a lot of time on long bike rides and runs, which kept me sane.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Champions get comfortable being uncomfortable.