Sunday, November 18, 2018

Brexiteers Are the Worst Separatists?

One of the basic tendencies of separatists (non-decolonization edition) is that they soft-pedal the costs of transition and overplay the benefits.  This makes sense as a political strategy: "hey Quebeckers, you get to keep everything you like about Canada, but get to be independent."  Of course, these promises are contradictions--if you are an independent country, then you can't have someone else issuing passports for your country.  You can rely on someone else's currency, but that basically means that you cannot have your own monetary policy. When the Scots tried to secede a few years ago, the Scottish National Policy changed its stance on NATO, saying that they would not mind staying in an alliance that they had long opposed.  Why?  To get more votes.

The problem is this: in a normal political campaign, you can make all kinds of promises, including ones that are in contradiction with each other and then finesse the differences afterwards.  Separatism is different--if one is successful, then one has an independent country and suddenly face a lot of new realities that are much harder to finesse.  Why?  Because becoming a different country does indeed mean breaking with the old country and so many of those promises either cannot be kept or must be kept but are very costly to do so. 

Part of this is that a party that comes into power after winning an ordinary election in a democracy has to bargain with other parties, but they can ultimately pick and choose which parties and which issues to negotiate.  When one secedes, one can't choose the bargaining partners--they will be the rump state and the international organizations that one wants to (re-)join.  The rump state will have far less incentive or desire to bargain than parties after an ordinary election--the politicians of the rump state are no longer responsible for the well-being of the citizens of the new state nor do they feel a compulsion to appeal to some kind of subset of the citizens of the new state.  I am probably downplaying coalitional bargaining (of which there is much, much literature I have not read), but it almost certainly pales in comparison to the amount of bargaining power one surrenders when one secedes.

Maybe Canada would have been gracious to a Quebec that a separatist referendum. Maybe a UK minus Scotland would have been kind to a departing Scotland (I doubt it).  Part if it is, of course, that the rump states want to make the transition painful to deter other separatist units.  But part of it is just the nature of the politics of the situation--the power imbalance usually favors the rump state because, here's the dirty secret, many separatist entities are among the better off of their previous country so they have more to lose.  Quebec gets far more from Canada in terms of equalization payments and other benefits than Canada gets. 

How does this apply to Brexit?  Besides the fact that some of the Brexiteers were lying sacks of xenophobia (Nigel Farage), prior to Brexit, the British had the best of all worlds--they got to participate in much of the EU that they wanted, they got to opt out of what they did not want, and they had a goodly amount of decision-making power.  Post-Brexit, they lose all decision-making power except if they are smart bargainers (they aren't), they lose the ability to opt into the stuff that they want, and they are forced to accept what the EU has to offer.  Oh, and the EU has no incentive to make it easy for them.

Was this foreseeable?  Absolutely.  Just the whole Ireland/Northern Ireland issue was patently obvious, to name one aspect.  Which is why the Brexiteers lied about the process and the outcomes.  Brexit is one of the biggest unforced errors a country has made (other than invading Iraq without a good post-war plan, electing Donald Trump, ....).  Could we have predicted it would be this big of a shitshow? Probably not because we wouldn't have known that Labour would suck this much.

David Cameron has much to answer for, as he let this happen.  Theresa May has not played this well, but she has faced a tough situation.  Corbyn?  Oh my.  Labour could have walked into power how many times if it was not led by such an awful person.

And, yes, it reinforces my confirmation bias about one thing--massive political and social change should not be decided by 50% plus one.  All you need is for some drunk frat boy voters or, to be more specific, resentful voters seeking change but having no clue what change really means and lying politicians to pander to the worst instincts to temporarily bridge 50% to start something that any sane, sober person would regret quickly enough.  Britain was not broken before Brexit, but it surely is now.  Whatever flaws the EU had and continues to have, ripping the UK from it is far more destructive.  And, again, we knew that two years ago.  Who has the political courage to risk their careers by suggesting going back?


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Extending in Mali: Why the Hell Not?

Apparently, Canada has been asked to stick around in Mali for a few months as getting the replacements in place (Romania) is going to take time, and Canada is trying to demure.  My basic response is this: if it was worth it to go to Mali for a year, it is worth it to stick around for three more months. 

Yes, I understand that the CAF will have to adjust, either by extending the current tour by three months or having a third rotation either for just three months or to shorten the second rotation a bit and then have a three month plus third rotation.  The military might say, and probably did, that this will upset various standard operating procedures.  And I get that.  But the CAF also prides itself on being a flexible force, so which is it?  Flexible or not?  Maybe the CAF is overextended with missions in Ukraine, Iraq, and Latvia, but again, what would it take to extend for three more months?

Because leaving on time here is not as bad as leaving Afghanistan early, but it has a similar effect: burning the political capital that was gained via sending the troops in the first place.  Maybe not all of it, but some of it.  The UN officials who begged Canada to replace the Germans are now scrambling to figure out what happens after Canada leaves--so they aren't happy.  The Germans and other Europeans who felt that Canada was doing them a favor will be unhappy since Canada can't just do a wee bit more, or as I always put it, the least Canada can do.  The Romanians will not be thrilled because they may end up getting pressed to show up earlier, which means more money and more risk.  Is the campaign to get a UN seat over, with Canada declaring no mas?  Of course, folks will say that this is not about a UN seat.... sure, sure.  But not extending for a few months certainly does not help the campaign, whether Canadian officials have or have not recognized that they aren't winning it.

Of course, this fits into a larger pattern of the Trudeau government--dithering and delaying.  It took a long time for Canada to decide to do this mission, just as I argued here that Canada took longer than it should to decide to send troops to Latvia and then longer than I would have liked to actually send them.  For a government that started with a cabinet retreat focusing on deliverology, it does not deliver that great.  [To be honest, I still prefer this government to the alternatives, but I would prefer that it performed with a smidge of alacrity]

A former student pushed back, saying that it didn't make sense to do this since a three month extension would put the mission into the middle of the next election.  I understand there is some risk, but the mission thus far has not made any news at home, and I doubt that it would generate much news during the election.  The Canadian helos might crash or might get shot at, but the mission is quite restricted--Canadian troops are not on the ground except behind the wire.  The mission was designed to be low risk, and low risk it will continue to be.  While it has the potential to be an election issue if something were to happen, the ruthless attempt to avoid all risks tends to create other risks, such as criticism from outside about whether Canada is serious about its role in the world and the opposition picking up on that criticism. 

One of the things I admired about the Canadian officers I interviewed for my work on Afghanistan was that they mostly believed not in avoiding risk but in mitigating or managing it.  I know that politicians are less likely to have that attitude, but, again, the desire to avoid all risk creates different kinds of risk, not the absence of risk.  So, maybe go with the risks you know rather than the ones you do not?

Of course, the government and the CAF might just say:

Connecting the Tweets: Trump as Military Commander edition

I sure miss Storify, that handy tool for posting a stream of tweets, so I will just have to do it manually here for my reaction to a piece about Trump Struggling to Master Role of Military Commander:

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Then and Now: 100 Years Since the End of the War to End All Wars

I have so many thoughts running in my head as folks remember and commemorate those who died in World War I.  We have learned so much and yet so little.  So, this really will be a semi-spew as I figure out what I am thinking today.

First, it is hard to imagine a more tragic conflict, as so much blood was shed by generals who thought that they could beat the other side with just a bit more audacity (someone else's blood) again and again.  For what?  For the rise of Communism.  For the prelude to fascism.  For a fun decade followed by a deep depression and then another World War.  Not every front in the war was as wasteful and pointless as the Western Front,

Second, the ending was so very strange--we must fight up to 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month.  I get it that they could not do it immediately after the signing since comms were not so great.  But to continue offensives when you know the end is near?  How wasteful is that?

Third, when we talk about the origins of the war, much focus is on whether to blame Germany or not, but that misses the larger point--there were both agents and structures in play here.  Not just the people who ran the various countries, but the balance of power, the arms races, the security dilemmas, the alliance structures, the lessons from the past that all combined to lead to this war.  When international relations scholars look back, we tend to focus on the structures.  When journalists look back, they focus on the people.  It is important to learn how individuals handle a crisis, for instance, since the war didn't happen overnight.  Yes, mobilization started not that long after the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, but there were points where individuals made things worse.  Likewise, it is important to consider how structures enable leaders to make good or bad decisions or constrain choices.

For me, a few things resonate loudly 100 years later because of my own biases:
  • Kaiser Wilhelm, if I get the stylized history correct, believed in pushing hard, expecting others to give in.  The idea was that threats and bluster work in international relations, which contradicts much of what we mostly think these days--that the nature of the international system means that threats create counter-reactions most of the time among "peers".  This resonates because Trump's behavior, chock full of bluster, expecting countries to back down, seems just as ill-considered and just as contrary to the way countries react.
  • One of the key parts of the constraints facing politicians at the time was lousy civilian control of the military. This was the war that taught the civilians that "war was too important to be left to the generals" as the war plans seemed to deprive politicians of choices (mobilization meant war) and that the conduct of much of the rest of the war wastefully destroyed a generation of young men.  These days, "we must support our troops" has meant perhaps that oversight is not what it used to be.  And, in the US, politicization of the armed forces is happening, so we need to pay more attention to how civilian control of the military is exercised.  And not just in the US as Dave, Phil and I are discovering, as it turns out that in many democracies, too few are paying attention to what their militaries are doing.
  • The war saw lots of innovation that had marginal effects during the war but ultimately led to revolutions in warfare and expansion in how many civilians would die in future wars--airpower, submarines, chemical weapons, etc.  The technological arms races today--who will develop hypersonic missiles, the best cyberoffensive weapons, AI, and all the rest--may lead to yet greater destruction.  We can imagine better how horrible it can be mostly because we have the exemplars of World War I and II.
  • That the war itself also set the context for a particularly devastating flu epidemic.  I wonder what a new big war would do in terms of global health.
  • And, of course, the war is partly about the mismanagement of the relative decline of the country, the UK,  that led and shaped the international order such as it was, and the rise of several contenders--Germany, Russia and the US.  How are we doing on managing the rise of China, the temporary return of Russia, and the decline of the US?  Not very well right now.  
So, there is much to remember.  Not just the sacrifices of a generation of soldiers and sailors, but the lessons learned and unlearned.



Friday, November 9, 2018

Queen Leading the Way

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody last night and really enjoyed it. Queen's biggest hits were a big part of the soundtrack of my teen years, so the movie, despite its inaccuracies, rocked.  As the movie directly addressed Freddie Mercury's sexuality, it got me thinking about music and sexuality and how my attitudes changed over time.

When I was a teenager, I was uncomfortable with homosexuality.  I thought that everyone had a right to lead their lives as they saw fit, but public displays of homosexuality made me uncomfortable.  I was one of those who thought that being called gay was the worst insult, and, yes, that disco was gay and therefore to be shunned.  So, yeah, I was very surprised last night to realize that Another One Bits the Dust was Queen's disco song.  Male fragility was a thing, I suppose, for me way back when.  

As an adult, I wondered if I disliked Duran Duran, Wham and Boy George because I was homophobic as a teen.  Then I realized that I liked Queen, David Bowie and Elton John.  So, it turns out that it was the music that was key--that Queen and Bowie and John are terrific and those others very much not.  I think that as my teens wore on, my attitudes shifted in part because I liked Queen and the others so much--that these flamboyant men* were incredibly talented and interesting and entertaining.  My attitudes also probably began to shift because of a research paper in my senior year in high school on the AIDS crisis just as it was becoming well-known.

* And yes, gay men, not lesbians, challenged my sense of sexuality.  

Of course, the real key was going to a college where there were lesbians, gays and bisexual people were out of the closet.  While I may have had gay friends before college, I didn't know it.  I did know it in college.  I was hit on once by a gay friend in college, which probably would have provoked a stronger reaction had it happened in high school.  I wasn't really that much more secure about anything at that point in time, but I guess I had started being a bit less homophobic.  Then I went on to grad school where I had more gay friends and professors and more since.

When I was playing poker online about ten years ago, I would be surprised that people would insult each other in the chat boxes by calling them gay.  My reaction was that I must be playing against 12 year olds--I was surprised that people continued to use gay as an epithet.  Some people don't mature, not realizing that there are LGBTQ+ people all around us or not caring if they are aware.  And, yes, I was and am aware of anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

Anyhow, I use the Semi-Spew to ruminate about a variety of things.  Last night got me thinking about growing up in the last 70s and early 80s, and how specific musicians made a big difference in how I see the world. That diversity is not just something to be tolerated but to be enjoyed. Freddie left us far too early, so I will be playing a heap of Queen (I really don't know any of his solo stuff) in the days ahead.  Starting with what I would want as my intro music:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Expectations and Realities: the 2018 Election

So, the Democrats win the House, don't get the Senate, get heaps of Governors but not FL/GA.  Is this a wave?  Should we be happy? (A good thread for saying hells yeah)  Depends on what you were expecting.  The polls seem to be mostly right, although they had the governor races tighter than they were in FL/GA.  Did we expect Beto to lose?  Well, if we kept realistic, then yeah, we did.  Sad, but there it is.

On the other hand, I am surprised that a heap of referendums passed that will have lasting impacts on future elections: Florida had to get 60% to return the right to vote to those convicted of felonies; measures to de-partisanize the drawing of districts (and thus reduce, hopefully, gerrymandering), etc.

These results are mixed--that the Senate didn't flip means that the courts are going to be awful for a generation or two, and I get that.  Some states passed referenda banning abortion, so Kavanaugh will get to kill Roe soon.  But flipping statehouses means that less bad legislation will need to be addressed by the courts, and might lead to better future candidates at all levels. 

So, where you stand on this depends on where you set your expectations.  Prospect theory asserts that people evaluate things not on their own but relative to some reference point.  So, did people consider a potential future with heaps of gains and now see the election as a loss or do people look at how things were and how they have changed for the better? 

This time, I had relatively reasonable expectations: Dem House, GOP Senate, Cruz in Texas.  I didn't think Abrams would win in Georgia because the game was so rigged, but I thought Gillum would win.  I didn't think Amendment 4 in Florida was going to win.  So, I am mostly upbeat.  9% margin is a wave even it is mediated by unfriendly institutions such as, well, the design of the Senate but the reality that the class of 2018 was always going to be hard for the Dems, and that gerrymandering and clustering (we live separately) distort outcomes in the House.

Texas ain't blue or purple, but Beto mobilized a lot of people and may have helped flip some Texas seats.  The GOP will have to panic about Texas in 2020 and beyond.  Expect more #voterfraudfaud.

This was also a time when one party owns the most popular news network, when unemployment is low and the effects of Trump's mercantilism are only starting to come to roost, when the wars are not so visible with few casualties.  We are due for a recession--which will be painful since this President and this Senate will not allow the government to absorb the shocks (remember when Obama saved the car industry, not going to happen next time...).  The GOP will blame the Democratic Congress, but the President and Senate will still be GOP dominated, so expect them to pay a higher price. Plus there will be a lot of Trump fatigue.

Sure, things could have gone far better, but they could have also gone worse.  Democracy was on the ballot, and I think it survived.  I call that a win.  And, yes, the age of Trump means we set our standards low. 



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Is This Election Any Different?

The search for a master narrative has already begun, so let's take heed not just of me but of smart folks who study American politics that there is not a single master narrative.  The pundits will try to make it so, but there is not.

However, we can consider whether this election is different--are things worse now?  This morning's conversation went thusly:


 And so I pondered--are there more mentions of Soros, a signal by anti-semites to anti-semits, than before?  I was thinking it would be, but nay:




Interesting--Soros is searched for during election cycles.  Hmmm, I wonder why?  Well, my original thought was not about Soros mentions by everyone or searches by everyone but by prominent GOP mainstream types, like the President, like members of the Congress, etc.  I don't have time to do that search--I have faith that folks will do that content analysis for their papers for the next American Political Science Association meeting.  What we do have instead is, I think, a record number of GOP ads that feature the combo of Jewish candidates and handfuls of $.

So, yeah, Trump and others have normalized anti-semitism and all the rest of the hates.  While white supremacy/nationalism may not be the only factor at work in this election and thus not THE master narrative, it is far more prominent and far more destructive than in recent elections.  The GOP has always played with this stuff to divide the Democrats and because it helps to turn out an important segment of their base. But they are far more shameless.  And that, alas, gives permission and encouragement to those who have imagined grievances and a willingness to hurt people.  First you hurt the women in your life and then you hurt those who are demonized by politicians and media (thanks Fox!). 

This election is different in many ways and similar in others.  A blue wave will be read as a repudiation of white nationalism, and a failed wave will be read as support for Trump's normalization of hate.  There will be more to it than that and lots of this is traditional stuff--what happens to the party of the President in midterm elections, the fact that most of the Senate seats were won by Democrats 6 years ago in a very pro-Democratic elections, that candidate emergence is a dynamic thing (GOP stalwarts dropped out knowing that they would be in minority, stronger Dems ran not just because of Trump disgust but because they saw this as a favorable election), etc.

What is the message here?  Hate is bad and getting worse but beware of the master narrative.  These elections are fought one district and state at a time.  And this post is appropriately incoherent--because it has no master narrative either.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Gamechanger Gala

Last night was a mighty special night as my pal, Stéfanie Von Hlatky, was awarded the Nichola Goddard Game Changer Award by the CDA Institute.  I wanted to mark the occasion by explaining the award and why Stef was so very deserving and then follow up with a few notes and observations about the night.

The CDA Institute is the think tank associated with the Conference of Defence Associations, which, in turn, is essentially a collection of veterans groups associated with various specialties.  CDAI is a key player in our various efforts to build the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  I have been to many of their events--the big Ottawa Defence and Security Conference each February, brownbags and roundtables and other stuff.  This was my first Vimy Gala, which is their big social event of the year where they give out the Vimy Award to some very big notables in the Canadian defence world: chiefs of defence staff, key senior officers, politicians and even a prof (David Bercuson, another key partner in the CDSN).  For non-Canadian readers, Vimy was the big battle in 1917 that helped to shape Canadian identity and especially the identity of the Canadian armed forces as it was the first time the Canadians commanded themselves, and Vimy Ridge was a target that many of the allied powers had tried to take, but only the Canadian forces managed to do so.  This year's winner is Lt.Gen Christine Whitecross, who is the highest rising woman in the CAF and now commanding at NATO HQ in Naples if I remember correctly.

The Nichola Goddard Game Changer Award was named after the first Canadian female soldier to die in combat.  Goddard was a FOO--forward artillery observer--who died in Afghanistan in 2006.  Her parents were present last night, making everything have more meaning.

Stef received this award despite her youth because she has made a huge impact on Canadian defence scholarship and on the Canadian defence community in a very short time.  I have often said that she is the future of Canadian defence scholarship, but that is wrong: she is its present as well as its future.  She has written smart stuff about alliances, Canada's role in the world, and gender and defence.  She helped create and energize Women in in International Security-Canada, which promotes women in academia and elsewhere in security stuff, which has tended to be a male dominated environment.  She has become a consultant to NATO, helping them improve their gender issues.  She is ambitious in the best sense of the term--she works hard to be the best she can, she helps others reach their potential, and, along the way, is making Canada and NATO better.

And, yes, she is a pal.  Folks last night asked how I know her.  It started with her running the research institute that was shared between the Université de Montréal and McGill.  Her super-competence and relatability made it easy for me to work with her, and a friendship was born.  She noted last night that it is rare to find folks who have so much in professional interests in common and have so much friendship.  I joked back at her, but she was right, and I was touched.  Ever since our time in Montreal, we have kept running into each other--Canada is a small country in many ways.  Until her sabbatical, she ran the Centre on International Policy and Development at Queens and brought me down to Kingston for talks and the big Kingston International Security Conference.  I included her in an edited volume project where I really needed her cameraderie as well as her expertise.  We have summited together--hanging out at the Warsaw and Brussels NATO meetings. And lately, she has been the keystone of the CDSN effort.  She not only brought along her KISC partners, giving our partnership real heft and international linkages, but wrote first drafts of key documents, vetted my proposals, linked me with key people, and served as a source of much advice and solace.

So, I was not surprised that she gave a great five minute acceptance speech.  What made Stef's brief talk so special was that she expressed clearly and quickly the challenge women in and near the armed forces face: they want to be treated equally but their identities always matter.  The audience found her speech compelling, giving her a long standing ovation.  The women in the audience crowded her after the event was over, making it clear that they appreciate the path that she has been breaking and, indeed, the games she has been changing.

I did learn some non-Stef stuff along the way:
  • My table was next to the one sponsored by Irving Shipyards.  Awkward! 
  • On the other hand, open bars sponsored by defence contractors do, indeed, make me a bigger fan of defence contractors.
  • I really suck at tying bowties.  I inherited my father's tux, and this was my first time wearing it.  I think I need a bigger bowtie.

  • Military bands are really good, but also really loud--making it hard to hear people at dinner.
  • My rep in this town is thoroughly established.  After two people asked me at an event last week why I didn't ask questions, a guy at the bar last night asked me the same, even though there was no Q&A.  He complimented me on asking polite but edgy questions at the various events in town.  Hmmm.

  • Oh, and I kind of felt like a rat following the Pied Piper:  



It was a great night, and I was and am so proud to call Stef VH a friend and a partner in our various networking efforts.